Heyward's offseason swing work paying off

Showing selectivity at plate, right fielder launches 5th homer of season

Heyward's offseason swing work paying off

CHICAGO -- The Cubs' Jason Heyward knew all the work he did on his swing this offseason paid off in the eighth inning Wednesday night. The Giants had called on lefty Steven Okert to face Heyward, who fouled off the first pitch, then tripled to right. That good feeling continued Thursday when Heyward hit a solo homer in Chicago's 5-1 win over San Francisco.

"For me, that [triple] was like, 'All right, this is going to stay fair,'" said Heyward, who has watched too many well-struck balls go foul this year. "I know each game, each at-bat, I have to be able to adjust. The triple I had [Wednesday] night, that was a really good swing, just to be able to adjust mid at-bat because the first [pitch] I pulled foul, and [Okert] made a good pitch. The next one, he still made a good pitch and it was inside, and staying inside it and being able to drive it to right field with backspin, that's a good thing."

That's a really good sign for Heyward, who began renovating his swing in November in Mesa, Ariz., after batting .230 in 2016, his first season with the Cubs.

When first asked Thursday if there was one swing in which he felt everything clicked, Heyward smiled.

"Yeah, but they go foul," Heyward said.

It's become a running joke on the Cubs.

"I was telling guys today, if I hit it in the basket, it can't go foul," Heyward said of his homer off Jeff Samardzija leading off the fifth that landed in the basket rimming the right-field wall. "I'm having good swings, trying to go up there with an approach every at-bat and trying to be aggressive in the strike zone and not miss good pitches to hit."

Heyward now has five homers this year; he didn't hit his fifth of 2016 until July 29 and finished the season with seven. The goal has been to balance being tension-free and still aggressive in the strike zone.

"I don't feel you can ignore [last year]," Heyward said. "You have to be aware and make adjustments. We're going to fail way more times than we'll succeed. That's why it's a humbling game. You always take failure and learn from it and go from there."

Manager Joe Maddon sees a difference.

"He looks very confident," Maddon said of Heyward. "It's nice to see that because he's close -- I know close is horseshoes -- but the foul balls and [balls off the] top of the wall, he's really been swinging the bat well and confidently. Then you have the high level of defense, so he's playing at the top of his game right now."

Heyward knows he has to keep working to maintain the good feeling he has now at the plate. He'd also like to stop getting asked about 2016. Yes, the Cubs won the World Series, but it's over.

"We don't care about last year," Heyward said. "It's not going to do anything for us now other than having experience. Right now is right now. We have to go play tomorrow, and that's going to be another thing. ... Last year was awesome, but we have to play right now, and I feel right now we're doing a great job playing baseball the way we can collectively and let things come to us. We're not trying to do too much, not trying to create excitement. It'll be there."

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.