Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports chronicles the intense, in-depth program that Jason Heyward embarked upon this winter in an effort to completely revamp his swing after last year’s career-worst season. The 27-year-old Heyward moved to Phoenix, Ariz. to be nearer to the Cubs’ training facilities. There, he’d work regularly with hitting coach John Mallee, assistant hitting coach Eric Hinske and mental skills coach Darnell McDonald in an effort to effectively rewire his muscle memory. Heyward now bats with his hands considerably lower and more relaxed at the plate, and with his bat more vertical as opposed to wrapped up near his shoulders and neck. Regardless of the outcome, president Theo Epstein was floored by the amount of work Heyward put in this winter.
“I’ve never seen a veteran player work as much as Jason did this winter, let alone right after winning a World Series and having already signed a long-term deal,” Epstein told Rosenthal. “It shows how much he cares, his dedication, his pride and his character. He’s the ultimate pro.”
A few more notes on the reigning World Series champs…
- John Lackey will pitch the 2017 season at the age of 38, but the veteran right-hander tells Bruce Levine of CBS Chicago that he’s not approaching this year as if it’ll be his last. “I feel great,” Lackey said to Levine. “I am just playing this year. At the end of the year, if I feel good, I will keep playing.” As Levine notes, Lackey did wear down a bit with a shoulder injury late in the 2016 season, but he’s been extremely durable in general since returning from Tommy John surgery that cost him the 2012 campaign. Over the past four seasons, Lackey’s averaged 198 regular-season innings per year, and he’s also tacked on another 62 1/3 total innings in the postseason. All told, he’s averaged 213 combined innings per season on his reconstructed ulnar collateral ligament.
- New Cubs closer Wade Davis tells MLB.com’s Richard Justice that he wasn’t anticipating a trade this winter. The right-hander called the trade “a little bit of a shock” but said his transition has been eased by already knowing manager Joe Maddon and bench coach Dave Martinez from his time with the Rays. Justice spoke to Maddon and Davis’ former teammate, Eric Hosmer, about the right-hander’s successful move from the rotation to the bullpen and the demeanor that made the switch possible.
- Anthony Rizzo was out of today’s Cactus League game with a slight bit of back stiffness, which prompted reporters to ask Maddon who the backup first baseman would be during the regular season (video link via ESPN Chicago’s Jesse Rogers). Maddon first noted Javier Baez as an option and also added that Kris Bryant could once again see some time at first base in 2017. The skipper added that catcher Willson Contreras could be a third option, but said that Baez and Bryant would be the primary reserves. Asked specifically about Kyle Schwarber playing first base, Maddon suggested that while the slugger “probably could” learn the craft, it’s not something that’s been worked on and isn’t much of an option in 2017.