[See UPDATE below. He’s back.]
I’ll admit it. I freaked out a teeny, tiny (heckuvalot) bit on Friday when Jason Heyward went diving into the right center field wall at AT&T Park and came up in what was seemingly excruciating pain.
I remember thinking that this looked like at least a multiple week, minor league rehab-type injury, and I immediately fell into a deep existential depression, questioning the meaning of life, death, pain, and, of course, baseball.
But in an unusual twist of fate, during a frustrating stretch of baseball in a season where the Cubs already lost another starting corner outfielder, the results of Heyward’s tests for serious injuries were completely negative and he was expected to return in roughly 3-5 days. Well, Friday was about 3.5 days ago and Heyward is indeed close to returning.
In a number of comments relayed by reporters at Cubs.com, CSN Chicago, and at the Chicago Tribune, Heyward indicated some serious optimism. He says he feels good and would be playing today if it were solely up to him. And although that may strike as just something a true “gamer” would say to get back on the field, he seems to be more confident than that. Adding, “I love how I’m feeling … I have complete confidence to go out there and test it out. I wouldn’t go do it if I didn’t trust it, and they wouldn’t let me do it if they didn’t trust it.” Heyward took batting practice yesterday, too.
On the good news, General Manager Jed Hoyer is rightfully relieved. “I feel like we dodged a bullet,” Hoyer said to reporters on Monday. “We brought in Dexter (Fowler so) we have some depth, and then we lost (Kyle) Schwarber. But at some point, you lose two corner outfielders and it starts to eat into that a little bit.” And Hoyer is right. Even with Heyward’s struggles at the plate, and even with Javier Baez, Tommy La Stella, Jorge Soler, and Matt Szczur all fighting for playing time (and earning it), a long-term loss of Jason Heyward would have been hugely detrimental to this team.
Luckily, it won’t be long term loss at all. In fact, Heyward might return as soon as tonight.
After hitting the ball well in batting practice on Monday, Heyward is eyeing a return to the lineup Tuesday night in St. Louis and he may get his wish, at least according to Joe Maddon. “If he’s fine, I have no problem with him whatsoever,” Maddon said. “I’ll listen to him and the medical people. If they have no issue, we’ll take him back.”
The implication from the multiple reports is that Heyward has a chance to return as soon as tonight, but Wednesday seems more likely. And who knows, maybe the time off will help him reset, recalibrate, and become the hitter he has been in the past.
At the very least, the time off was expected to give Heyward some extra rest for a sore right wrist that has been painfully lingering since the beginning of the season. In fact, a sore right wrist might go a long way to explaining the power/hard contact struggles of a guy who is otherwise seeing the ball very well (12.7% walk rate) and not really striking out (19.4%).
Unfortunately, the time off may not have been enough and Heyward expects to continue dealing with the wrist issue as best he can even after his return. For now, I’ll just be happy to have his glove back in right field, his patience back at the plate and his base running back out on the diamond as soon as possible.
UPDATE from Brett: Joe Maddon just told The Score that Heyward is starting tonight, and will be batting second. I’m glad he’s going to get a couple games in St. Louis for a variety of reasons. Just, you know, stay clear of the walls for a few days.
All that’s left to do tonight is hit five grand slams, the final of which cracks the Arch in an unsightly way.