Maddon looks to build bond with Chapman

Cubs Notebook: Heyward frustrated with first-year funk; Soler nearly ready to return

Maddon looks to build bond with Chapman

CHICAGO -- Cubs manager Joe Maddon said he knew Aroldis Chapman would be fine as soon as he threw his first pitch. Now, Maddon just needs to get to know the new Cubs closer.

On Wednesday night, Chapman lit up the scoreboard and excited the 41,000-plus at Wrigley Field when he fired a 101-mph strike to Jose Abreu in the ninth inning. Chapman, acquired Monday from the Yankees, retired the side, striking out two of the three batters he faced. His last pitch registered at 103 mph.

It hasn't been a smooth transition off the field. On Tuesday, Chapman was asked about a phone conversation with Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts and president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, which the team requested before finalizing the trade. The pitcher didn't recall many details, and was so upset at how he was portrayed after the news conference that he didn't want to talk to the media on Wednesday. Catcher Miguel Montero convinced Chapman to do so.

"I know there's been some reticence or pushback regarding him, but understand where he's coming from," Maddon said on Thursday. "We don't know him, he doesn't know us, and he really doesn't know the language. My best advice, and for me, too, is to attempt to build a relationship."

Maddon was concerned about calling on Chapman in a non-save situation. Chapman responded well.

"He looks like he has tremendous focus," Maddon said. "I was concerned about bringing him into an 8-1 game where there was not that normal adrenaline in a save situation. Coming into the game like last night, first time as a Cub, full house, trying to make a good first impression, I thought that would get the adrenaline pumping right there."

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• Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward, who signed an eight-year, $184 million contract in the offseason, is also under scrutiny. Heyward was batting .229 in 91 games.

"He's hit the ball better than his batting average shows," Maddon said. "He's really able to take a very difficult moment and not show it or blow up and just hold it within. There's been a lot of scrutiny coming into the season. Of course, it hasn't gone the way he wants it to go offensively to this point. The way he's handling it, I don't know if anybody could handle it better than the way he has. I've been impressed with everything about him."

Heyward said he hasn't heard any negative feedback from fans.

"I know people are probably saying stuff, but I'm not really listening one way or the other," he said. "When we leave every night, there are some people who may want to see more, whatever it is. I've seen a lot of good face to face and a lot of positives, like [people saying] 'Tonight's the night,' things like that.

"It's not easy, and it sucks to go through, but at the same time I feel people are anxious, anxious to win a World Series, anxious to have everybody on the same team, anxious to see the team go where we can go. It's been cool from day one to see the fans and how they live and die with every game. I feel that's a unique experience, and that's something I appreciate."

Heyward is bothered by how he's done so far.

"Whatever [fans are] feeling, I'm feeling probably a million times worse," he said.

Jorge Soler (left hamstring strain) and Chris Coghlan (right rib-cage strain) are making progress in their rehab assignments at Double-A Tennessee. Maddon said Soler's health is good, and the outfielder just needs to work on his timing at the plate.

When either one is activated, the Cubs will have some difficult decisions to make regarding the roster. Matt Szczur is out of options, and Maddon noted he's had a lot of conversations with Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer about what they can do and not lose the inventory.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.