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The Cubs tinkered with Jason Heyward’s swing

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Cubs outfielder Jason Heyward had his worst season as a major leaguer last year. Once considered the best prospect in baseball, Heyward’s entire career has been underwhelming for many despite a rather impressive total of 32.7 Wins Above Replacement, per Baseball Reference. A lot of that value, though, was accrued with his defense and base running, not with his bat. Last year, Heyward hit .230/.306/.325 with seven home runs and 49 RBI in 592 plate appearances. His .631 OPS was the third-worst mark among qualified hitters, ahead only of shortstops Adeiny Hechavarria and Alexei Ramirez. Heyward was even less reliable in the postseason, batting .104 in 50 trips to the plate.

During the offseason, hitting coach John Mallee and assistant hitting coach Eric Hinske helped retool Heyward’s swing, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports.

No longer would Heyward twist his top hand and wrap the bat around his shoulder. His bat angle would be more vertical, removing the tension from his shoulders. He would lower his hands to be in a more relaxed position and move his lower half first, allowing his hands to work.

Though Heyward is hitless in eight at-bats to start the spring, his coaches and Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein are happy with the progress he’s made. Epstein said, “I’ve never seen a veteran player work as much as Jason did this winter, let alone right after winning a World Series and having already signed a long-term deal. It shows how much he cares, his dedication, his pride and his character. He’s the ultimate pro.”

Heyward is entering the third year of an eight-year, $184 million contract, so it behooves the Cubs to help Heyward reach his fullest potential sooner rather than later. Considering the talent elsewhere on the roster, imagining the Cubs with a productive Heyward is scary.

Giants place Hunter Pence on 10-day disabled list with right thumb sprain

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The Giants placed outfielder Hunter Pence on the 10-day disabled list with a right thumb sprain, per an official announcement on Friday. Pence initially sustained the injury during the club’s home opener on April 3, when he dove to intercept a line drive double from Robinson Cano and jammed his thumb. Weeks of playing through the pain hasn’t worked, so he’ll take a breather while the Giants give outfielder Mac Williamson a chance to start in left after getting called up from Triple-A Fresno.

Pence, 35, wouldn’t pin his recent struggles on his injury, but it’s clear that he’s having difficulty finding his footing this year. He slashed a meager .172/.197/.190 through 61 plate appearances in 2018, collecting just one extra-base hit and two walks during the Giants’ dismal 7-11 stretch. While it’s far too early in the season to make any final judgments, it doesn’t look like the veteran outfielder will be replicating the .275+ average, 4.0+ fWAR totals of years past (at least, not anytime soon).

Williamson, meanwhile, has gotten off to a hot start in Triple-A. Prior to his call-up this weekend, the 27-year-old batted an incredible .487/.600/1.026 with six home runs and a 1.626 OPS through his first 50 PA. A hot Triple-A bat doesn’t always survive the transition to the majors, but the Giants will use all the help they can get — especially as they take on the AL West-leading Angels this weekend.