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No longer a numbers game as Heyward focuses on end game

Jason Heyward

Jason Heyward doesn’t even bother looking at the numbers anymore. It’s too late to realistically put much shine on them at this point anyway.

Anybody who follows the Cubs knows that the Gold Glove right fielder has been in the worst extended slump of his career during the first year of his eight-year, $184 million deal.

But the former All-Star, who was dropped to sixth in the lineup last month, remains a big enough contributor — particularly in the field — that manager Joe Maddon has no intention of taking him out of the lineup. And he might have a pitchers’ revolt on his hands if he did.

“I handle it by trying to come here and help my team win every day. It can’t be about the numbers at this point,” said Heyward, whose offensive numbers have actually dipped the last two months has he has double-down at times on the work in the cage with hitting coaches John Mallee and Eric Hinske.

The .227 average and .627 OPS he took into Thursday’s game didn’t improve with a pair of grounders to second in his first two at-bats, including double-play ball to kill a second-inning scoring chance. And he knows it’s not worth making that his focus with less than two months to go in the season and the Cubs rolling into mid-August with the biggest division lead in baseball.

“That’s just the nature of the beast when it comes to starting off slow, and you’re going through struggles at certain points in time this late in the season,” he said. “Not that I ever personally looked at numbers anyway. But right now they’re just not going to matter. The only thing that’s going to matter is wins and losses and what I do every night to help the team win.”

Manager Joe Maddon has suggested more than once, and Heyward has admitted, that he might have been pressing at times this year to live up to the big contract – as Jon Lester admitted a year ago after signing his $155 million megadeal.

But whatever the numbers say, Heyward remains a force in the Cubs outfield they didn’t have last year – one of the top-rated defensive players, regardless of position, in baseball. And his performance in the field, if anything, has looked as strong this season as it has at any point this season – a major part of why Maddon says he’ll remain a daily part of the Cubs’ lineup into the playoffs, with the rare exceptions of certain left-handed pitching matchups.

“We’re still doing pretty good,” Maddon said. “He’s still playing a great game of baseball. He hasn’t hit to his potential yet, but I believe he will.”

Teammates also want him in the lineup every day. On Tuesday, starter John Lackey waited near the dugout twice at the end of defensive innings to embrace Heyward after making big outs for him, including a diving catch.

“And he’s a leader out there,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “Everything he does on a day-to-day basis – in the outfield, his work ethic – it rubs off on us. It’s easy to be a good teammate when times are good, but when times are tough, you can’t tell. He’s still one of the better teammates I’ve ever played with.”