Maddon likes Heyward's tweaked approach

Maddon likes Heyward's tweaked approach

MESA, Ariz. -- Jason Heyward is hitless in two games this spring, but Cubs manager Joe Maddon likes what he's seen.

"It looks freer," Maddon said of Heyward's approach at the plate. "It's something I believe is going to work. Talking to him, I can tell, looking at his face, how comfortable he is with it.

"It's a little bit of a new toy, but he knows the toy has a lot of potential benefit to it. I really like watching what he's doing right now. His [batting practice on Saturday] was real clean. There's a pretty good year out there for him."

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Heyward spent the offseason in Arizona working with Cubs assistant hitting coach Eric Hinske almost daily. On Saturday, Heyward went 0-for-3 against the Athletics, and was the designated hitter on Sunday against the Indians, going 0-for-2 with a walk. The plan is to have Heyward play two games in a row, then sit a day.

Heyward on improving in 2017

"We're talking about trying to get him more consecutively out there so he can get a feel for what he's doing," Maddon said.

If you compare Heyward's stance from last year, when he batted .230, he now lowers his hands at the start of the swing.

"His hands are working so much better," Maddon said. "Our game, as a hitter, is played between your fingertips and your elbows. Guys who get a little bit long, a little arm-y -- we call it the 'military swing', they get a little bit arm-y. Get it? So, if you can engage from your elbows to your fingertips and use your hands and wrists -- they used to talk about Hank Aaron -- that's where it happens. That's what I'm seeing. A lot of it has to do where you start. He's starting in a manner that promotes, for me, better hand usage."

Worth noting

• Maddon has yet to name the Cubs' Opening Day starter. He's got a tough choice between the 2015 National League Cy Young Award winner (Jake Arrieta), and the pitchers who finished second and third last season (Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks). Chicago opens the regular season at St. Louis on April 2.

"The big thing is to line them up properly," Maddon said.

• Maddon had an invitation from actor/comedian/Cubs fan Jeff Garlin to appear in an episode of "Curb Your Enthusiasm." However, the only date they had open was last Tuesday when Maddon had to attend Cactus League Media Day in Phoenix. It is one of the manager's favorite shows, so he hopes to make a cameo somehow.

"Even if it's a picture on the wall or a phone call, maybe, or something," Maddon said. "It'll happen."

• Looking ahead, Alec Mills and Eddie Butler will make their Cubs debuts Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, as they each get starts. The Cubs acquired Mills from the Royals on Feb. 8 for Minor Leaguer Donnie Dewees, and traded James Farris to the Rockies for Butler on Feb. 1. Both are part of the depth the Cubs are trying to develop.

• Catcher Miguel Montero's left elbow was swollen and sore after taking a bat off his arm during Saturday's game. He was considered day to day.

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for 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.