LOS ANGELES – As the Cubs headed to the road for this longest trip of the second half, the season-long struggles of Jason Heyward had the $184 million right fielder riding the bench for the entire first series of the trip.
Coincidence or not, the Cubs lost two of three in that Colorado series. And then they won the next four with him back in the lineup – including Friday in 10 innings after he doubled leading off the ninth, then scored the tying run on a pair of wild pitches.
By Saturday, Heyward was back on the bench against tough rookie left-hander Julio Urias – but still contributed with a seven-pitch, pinch single for an RBI in the seventh inning.
Whether that’s a sign his long slumbering bat could be stirring as the calendar nears September, teammates – especially pitchers – want the Gold Glove outfielder in the lineup daily, regardless.
“One hundred percent,” Jake Arrieta said. “He’s one of the best team guys I’ve ever played with. His demeanor and attitude has never changed. He’s always positive. And it’s not easy to maintain that attitude when you do struggle.
“After a tough at-bat or a couple tough at-bats, he’s out there making tremendous diving plays or keeping really difficult line drives in front of him to keep a guy at first base. It’s tough to stretch a double on that guy. So he brings a lot to the table.
“And the way he carries himself really rubs off on a lot of our guys.”
Said manager Joe Maddon: “That’s why I say he’s a winner. The hitting’s going to be there – I’m telling you, it’s going to be there.
“He’s just had a tough moment, and he’s been digging himself out of a hole all year – at the plate. But every place else, he’s among the best in the game right now.”
Sometimes lost in the criticism over the hitting slump has been the transformative effect Heyward has had on the Cubs’ outfield defense this year – helping make the Cubs the best team in baseball by a wide margin in turning balls in play into outs.
As Heyward said after the four days off: “I understand that I can help this team in a lot of ways.”
MVP candidate Kris Bryant has noticed even as a second-year player.
“We all know what he can do at the plate. And everybody knows what he can do in the field,” Bryant said. “He’s a huge asset to this team. It’s just awesome to see him come out and compete every day. It inspires me. It makes me want to be like him – always keeping your head up, always being a great teammate, being positive. I can’t say enough about him.”
With all due respect to Len Kaspar and Jim Deshaies, the marquee inning of Cub broadcasts this year shoul be Sunday’s third inning on CSN.
That’s when the local broadcast will switch for an inning to the Dodger broadcast with legendary Vin Scully, working the final Cubs-Dodgers (regular-season) game of his 67-year broadcast career.
Lackey close to return?
John Lackey, who has been sidelined the last two weeks by a sore shoulder, fared well enough after Friday’s throwing session that he’s been scheduled for a full-effort bullpen session Monday at home.
That could put him in line for a return from the DL the first week of September, barring a setback.
Top setup man Hector Rondon (triceps) also played catch Friday but has not progressed to more intense throwing yet. He’s expected to throw on flat ground Monday.