Maddon: Jason Heyward to open season as everyday player for Cubs again

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Jason Heyward

MESA, Ariz. — Last year at this time, the story with Jason Heyward was his retooled swing — supposedly rebuilt for a bounce-back season.

This time around, the Cubs right fielder says he’s emphasizing only one thing as he heads into the third year of his franchise-record eight-year, $184 million deal.

“Play,” he said. “Be on the field and play. Everything else is going to take care of itself.”

Maybe. Heyward’s numbers ticked up in 2017 after a miserable debut season with the Cubs offensively. If he stays healthy, he could get back many of the 111 plate appearances he lost last season, in part because of a pair of injuries to his right hand (sprained finger and bad cut) that required stints on the disabled list.

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That part could, indeed, take care of itself, but he’ll have to take care of the rest of the equation — getting back other plate appearances he lost when manager Joe Maddon sat him against some left-handers, or when he slumped.

“That’s why I said ‘play,’ ” Heyward said of his goals this year. “Play.”

Maddon, who noted he likes Heyward’s complete game when he’s in the lineup, said he’ll probably go into this season with Heyward back to being an everyday player, despite a couple of lifetime splits (.800 OPS vs. right-handers, .651 vs. lefties) that didn’t improve in the last two years.

“We’ll probably let him go and see how it plays out,” Maddon said. “Then again, there’s so many at-bats to be had among outfielders. So if you get, like, a tough lefty, why not just give [the day off] to him?

“It’s almost that the other team’s pitcher is going to dictate some of this to help us sort those at-bats out.”

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