Schwarber, Heyward have pleasing returns to action

Schwarber, Heyward have pleasing returns to action

MESA, Ariz. -- Both Kyle Schwarber and Jason Heyward took steps in their Cactus League debuts. For the first time since April 7, Schwarber played outfield, while Heyward called Saturday's game against the A's a good starting point after spending the offseason working on his swing.

Schwarber and Heyward were the leadoff men in the Cubs' respective split-squad games. In Scottsdale, Schwarber started in left field against the Giants, the first time in the outfield since he tore two ligaments in his left knee in a freak collision with Dexter Fowler last season. Schwarber was the designated hitter in the World Series but wasn't cleared to play outfield at that time. Against the Giants on Saturday, he faced Matt Cain and Mark Melancon and went 0-for-2, and didn't have a single ball hit to him in the outfield.

"It felt good being out there, just getting around on the grass and seeing some pitches and everything," Schwarber said.

Schwarber on 2017 spring debut

"I have so much confidence in him," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "The leg is good, he runs better than you think, even with the brace on. He runs routes, he throws well. He's going to surprise people. I think he's going to be a really good outfielder."

Schwarber is expected to be the Cubs' leadoff man, although he's not exactly the prototype speed guy.

"What does a leadoff hitter look like anymore?" Maddon said. "There aren't many of those high-on-base-percentage basestealing types. Guys don't want to run as much because it beats their bodies up. It's not easy to be a 50-bag guy or more because of what it does to your legs, your wrist, your hands. You'll see, on occasion, guys who will go, but not like [Lou] Brock or [Maury] Wills or [Tim] Raines or guys who went all the time."

Heyward has the baserunning skills to be a good leadoff man, but he struggled at the plate last season, batting .230 in his first year with the Cubs. On Saturday, he went 0-for-3, driving in a run with a groundout in the second. He was encouraged.

"The only thing to do now is go play and react to that," Heyward said of his long offseason. "It's a good thing to have a clear mind doing that. Today was a good starting point. I swung at strikes, swung at good pitches, got a runner home. It's good at-bats to take into the next day."

Heyward flied out to center in the first and fifth, and felt those were good misses instead of rolling over on the ball and grounding out.

"You can make adjustments from there," he said.

Since the 2016 season ended, he's heard from friends, family, former teammates and coaches. As far as he's concerned, those struggles are over.

"It's good to have a clear mind going into this [season]," Heyward said. "I feel I'm playing baseball again."

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.