MILWAUKEE -- Leadoff man Kyle Schwarber hit a ball 424 feet Sunday, while reigning National League MVP Kris Bryant had his second consecutive three-hit game and got on base four times. World Series MVP Ben Zobrist also homered, but it was the five at-bats by the Chicago Cubs' right fielder that made for the key storyline coming out of the 7-4 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers.
Jason Heyward is showing progress.
Technically, Heyward was credited with three hard-hit balls, but anyone who watched the game knows it felt more like he went 5-for-5 (according to Statcast, Heyward hit five balls with exit velocity of 95+ MPH; there was only 17 instances of a player hitting a ball 95+ five times in a game last season). Only two fell in for hits, as Heyward was robbed not once, not twice, but three times by the Brewers defense. That was no big deal, since the Cubs won the game and aren't overly worried about results just a few days into the new season anyway. They want to see Heyward have a fighting chance at the plate while his confidence moves in a positive direction.
“I like his hands,” manager Joe Maddon said after the game. “I like his hands more involved right now. He’s getting started sooner, staying through the ball longer.
“I want him to be patient with it," Maddon continued. "You’re not going to see results overnight. Everyone wants to pour water on something and turn it into what they want.”
Maddon made similar comments during spring training, when the results from Heyward's winter swing makeover were slow in coming. After reaching base a few times in the opening series in St. Louis without hitting the ball hard, Heyward has been gaining steam. He sprayed the ball all over Miller Park this weekend, giving hope that his .230 batting average from 2016 is well in the rearview mirror. On Sunday, Heyward said he simply hit his pitch by being "on time."
“Strive for perfection, though you know it’s not going to be perfect,” the 27-year-old said of his approach. “Keep it simple, go up there relaxed and take the thinking out.”
It’s about the most Heyward will say right now. He simply doesn’t want to dwell on his swing every time he has a good game. But progress is progress, whether he’s hitting Zach Davies, as he did Sunday, or Clayton Kershaw. It doesn’t matter right now. If hitting the ball hard or reaching on soft contact helps his confidence, that’s all that matters. The Cubs are in this for the long haul with Heyward.
Maddon expressed as much Saturday, giving Heyward an unsolicited confidence boost.
“I said, ‘Man, it's looking good,’” the manager recalled. “Trust yourself, and it’s going to get better.'"
During the spring, scouts who watched Heyward had their doubts, though no one thought he was a finished product. He's not one now, either. It’s simply a good start in a game where confidence is half the battle. Heyward has some at the moment, with a .333 batting average after one week, and that could have more meaning than any of us know.
“We all know the player that he is, and last year was a complete fluke,” Bryant said. “You’re seeing it now. Five at-bats today, he could have went 5-for-5. He’s been a big factor in our wins early on. It’s nice to see him off to a great start.”
An entire fan base would agree.