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Maddon: Heyward's adjustments 'very effective'

Outfielder homers for second straight game; adds stellar defensive play
Special to MLB.com

CINCINNATI -- Last April, Jason Heyward was the new kid on the block. This April, he is just one of the guys.

Well, not exactly. He's one of the guys who has been one of the stars of the first month of the Cubs' season. Heyward blasted a three-run home run Saturday, his second in as many games, and made a key defensive play during Chicago's 12-8 win over Cincinnati at Great American Ball Park.

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CINCINNATI -- Last April, Jason Heyward was the new kid on the block. This April, he is just one of the guys.

Well, not exactly. He's one of the guys who has been one of the stars of the first month of the Cubs' season. Heyward blasted a three-run home run Saturday, his second in as many games, and made a key defensive play during Chicago's 12-8 win over Cincinnati at Great American Ball Park.

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The 27-year-old right fielder is off to a nice start, having hit in 14 of 16 games, and is batting .300 (18-for-60) with a triple, two homers and 10 RBIs. After 20 games last season, his first with the Cubs, Heyward was batting .200 (12-for-60). He did not hit his first home run until May 17, and his second came on June 2.

"It's tough when you are worried about other things," Heyward said of his struggles last April. "I had a wrist injury early, which is not an excuse. This year, coming in, I had put in my work in the offseason. I was able to have a consistency in my routine that allowed me to relax and have the good timing and rhythm that allows me to focus on just myself and the pitcher."

Video: CHC@CIN: Heyward discusses the Cubs' offense

The last time Heyward hit homers in consecutive games was June 2015. Cubs manager Joe Maddon said adjustments in Heyward's swing are beginning to pay off.

"His whole setup is different, how he's starting the bat," Maddon said. "He is much more active with his hands throughout the swing process, and that's why you are seeing harder contact. Less arms, more hands, that's how I look at it. It's been very effective.

"From Spring Training on, it's been looking good. I just thought he needed more time to deal with it. He has had a lot of hard outs, too. He is gaining confidence. As the confidence grows, he will continue to hit the ball hard."

The Cubs led, 8-5, with two outs in the sixth inning when Heyward came to bat against Lisalverto Bonilla with two men on base. Heyward fell behind, 1-2, then got ahold of a changeup low in the zone and lifted it 99 feet into the air and halfway up into the seats in right field, 395 feet away according to Statcast™.

The Cubs, who took over first place in the division with their win Friday, led by six runs and never looked back.

"It's hard to overcome, two three-run homers and a grand slam," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "We had a really nice offensive day, some really good at-bats today. But they just beat us in a slugfest."

Heyward's defense has never fallen off, even when he has struggled at the plate. The four-time Gold Glove Award winner added to his collection of gems in the third inning Saturday, when he dove to collect Zack Cozart's fly ball, then fired a throw to first that doubled off Eugenio Suarez.

Video: CHC@CIN: Heyward makes a diving catch, turns DP

"It just kept running away from me," Heyward said. "I got a pretty good jump, but it kept fading. I was thinking, 'Come on, ball, just stop.' It was cool I was able to double him off."

Statcast™ gave Heyward a 3-star play, making him 3-for-3 in 3-star opportunities this season. He was third among all regular Major League outfielders last season by going 13-for-14 in 3-star chances.

"Things like that are huge pickups, especially for me, when I am trying to get as deep as I can into the game," Cubs starter Jake Arrieta said. "He gets tremendous jumps on the ball and has great awareness. He was able to get to his feet. He knew he had a chance to set his feet and throw to first. That was a huge play."

Andrew Call is a contributor to MLB.com based in Cincinnati and covered the Cubs on Saturday.

Chicago Cubs, Jason Heyward