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Heyward itching to return to lineup

Outfielder likely to be activated Saturday; Bryant confident in swing
MLB.com @CarrieMuskat

CHICAGO -- Jason Heyward is expected to be activated Saturday and back in the Cubs' lineup. Just ask him.

"I'm playing tomorrow. With us," Heyward said Friday in the clubhouse, returning after a one-game rehab stint with Class A South Bend in which he was 1-for-3 with an RBI single.

Full Game Coverage

CHICAGO -- Jason Heyward is expected to be activated Saturday and back in the Cubs' lineup. Just ask him.

"I'm playing tomorrow. With us," Heyward said Friday in the clubhouse, returning after a one-game rehab stint with Class A South Bend in which he was 1-for-3 with an RBI single.

Full Game Coverage

"It's to the point where we can control it and not go in a bad direction as far as making anything worse," said Heyward, who has been on the disabled list since May 6 with a sprained right index finger.

Heyward did not wear any protective padding on his right hand, which was encouraging.

"I just needed to swing, I did not need to walk," Heyward said. "I needed to go up there and swing the bat and make sure I could do that worry-free."

The Cubs will have to decide if they want to keep rookie Ian Happ and send someone else to the Minors to open up a roster spot for Heyward. Happ, 22, has started every game since he was called up from Triple-A Iowa on Saturday, and he was 6-for-17 heading into Friday's game.

Video: CIN@CHC: Happ doubles down the third-base line

"That's what happens when you're good is you have tough decisions," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "The fact that Ian has come up and done so well makes it even more difficult. We'll try to figure it out and make our best guess."

Whatever the Cubs do, they want to make sure Happ can continue to play on a regular basis to further his development.

"He's definitely the kind of guy you don't want sitting around," Maddon said.

Happ, the Cubs' first pick in the 2015 Draft, has handled the transition from the Minors to the Majors with ease. Kris Bryant, who was Chicago's first pick in 2013, said the Cubs' front office does its homework.

"It just seems like they've nailed every pick for a while now," Bryant said. "I think there's a trend there with position players. I think when you go to college and you get to experience that type of level of competition under an environment like that, I just think that it certainly helped me become a better player and be more responsible, mature, make good decisions. So it's no surprise to me that Ian's doing what he's doing, and the rest of the guys are doing what they're doing, too."

• Speaking of Bryant, the home run he hit to center field on Thursday was well struck, projected at 450 feet by Statcast™.

"It felt great, great swing, just because it was an inside pitch, too," Bryant said. "To hit it right of center, that was one of my best swings of the year. Looking at the video of it, it was a great swing. That's a lot of what I did in the Minors. Even when I first got called up, take that inside down-and-in pitch and hit it to right-center, especially off a lefty. That one felt really good."

What felt weird was Wednesday's game when Bryant broke a bat in the first inning, and the largest part became stuck high up in the netting behind home plate.

Video: CIN@CHC: Bryant's bat gets stuck in the netting

"Usually when you break a bat, it goes toward the field and not behind you," Bryant said. "I was running back and didn't know where the bat was. I looked up when I was on the field and thought, 'Oh, man, that's pretty high up there.'"

The Wrigley Field staff tried to shake the netting to dislodge the bat, but it eventually brought out a 20-foot ladder to get the bat down during the game.

• Heyward was only in South Bend for one day, but it was a good experience.

"It's always humbling to go back," he said. "You remember the path you took to get here."

Heyward had plenty to talk to the young players about.

"It's baseball," he said. "You always have something in common to talk about. Some guys told me they played against my brother in high school, college."

Heyward also got to scout Dylan Cease, No. 3 on MLBPipeline.com's Cubs' Top 30 Prospects list. The right-hander started for South Bend, but he had to leave with an apparent ankle injury.

Video: Top Prospects: Dylan Cease, RHP, Cubs

"He threw well," Heyward said of Cease. "In my eyes, he threw really well. A lot of guys down there felt bad for him because he seems to have bad luck regarding injuries. He got ahead of guys. What I got to see was impressive. He attacks the strike zone and felt comfortable with all of his pitches."

• Maddon modeled a new T-shirt on Friday, "Embrace the Suck," which is a combination of two slogans he used last year, "Embrace the Target" and "Try Not to Suck." Apparently, it's also a popular saying in the military. Proceeds from sales of the T-shirts will be split between Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation and a cause designated by the military.

"The message cannot be more appropriate than it is right now, regarding the start of the season," Maddon said. "We're embracing the suck, we're trying to continue to move forward.

"I would imagine if you're [in the military and] fighting in a different situation, it's never any good, but nevertheless, you have to embrace the moment somehow," Maddon said. "I thought it was perfect the moment I heard it in camp."

Cubs mental skills coordinator Joshua Lifrak apparently told Maddon about the military connection.

This season has been tougher for the Cubs than 2016, when they won 103 games and posted the best record in the Major Leagues. That's another reason for Maddon's motivational message.

"It's never going to be the same path," Maddon said. "To expect utopia on an annual basis in the baseball industry is difficult and not a good method. Right now, I want out guys to understand maybe we haven't done our best work to this point, but that's a good thing, to stay focused and understand the better days are coming. We've had three good days [against the Reds], but it's going to take a lot more than that to get back to where we want to be."

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.

Chicago Cubs, Kris Bryant, Jason Heyward