PITTSBURGH – The Cubs revealed Jason Heyward has been dealing with a nagging right wrist injury since the first week of the season, hoping some rest will get the Gold Glove outfielder closer to full strength.
The Cubs scratched Heyward from Monday’s lineup against the Pittsburgh Pirates, though manager Joe Maddon signaled he should be available off the bench after getting treatment at PNC Park.
“I don’t think it’s a long-term kind of thing by any means, but his wrist is sore,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He hasn’t said anything, and then finally he said something, so we’re trying to react to it right now.”
The Cubs gave Heyward the biggest contract in franchise history, guaranteeing eight years and $184 million for his age-26 upside, elite defensive skills and offensive profile as a patient, disciplined hitter.
The Cubs have already seen Heyward make momentum-shifting plays in right field, change the dynamic at the top of the order and reinforce an aggressive mentality running the bases.
But this wrist issue – which stretches back to the season’s second series against the Arizona Diamondbacks in early April – might help explain why Heyward has zero homers through 23 games and a .573 OPS in 100-plus plate appearances.
“He’s the last person who would ever make an excuse,” president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. “But he got off to a slow start last year, too. And then when it clicked, he was off and running. I think that’s what we’ll see with him.”
Last season, Heyward hit .217 with a .611 OPS in April for the St. Louis Cardinals before increasing his production in May (.783 OPS) and June (.881 OPS). He hit .318 after the All-Star break, getting on base almost 40 percent of the time for a 100-win team and finishing with a 6.5 WAR rating.
At 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, Heyward’s built like a slugger, even if that’s not necessarily his game, and his swing tends to need maintenance.
“He’s a tall guy with longer arms,” Epstein said. “It takes him a little bit of a while to feel his swing and get locked in. No concerns.”
After stuttering through the first seven matches of the season, reinforcements are on the way for the Chicago Fire.
Senegalese midfielder Khaly Thiam will join the team later this week on a loan deal with an option to buy. The move is pending league approval although the official announcement is expected soon.
The deal was in the works more than a month ago, but Thiam needed to finish his season with Hungarian team MTK Budapest before joining the Fire. MTK wrapped up its season on Saturday and finished fourth in the Hungarian league, losing out on a Europa League berth on the final match of the season.
“He is going to join us this week," Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said during his weekly conference call. "He is going to do physical and medicals. He’ll be here and he’s very important for us. We believe the addition of Thiam is very important to increase our competitiveness with all his qualities, especially he is very good on the ball. He is very good also in aerial duels and his presence on the field is very important. With him we will increase our competitiveness in the team and of course within the league.”
The Fire can use the help immediately after having four players miss out on Saturday’s 1-1 draw with D.C. United due to injury. David Accam is expected to be available against Vancouver on May 11, but odds are he won’t be able to start, especially on a turf field. Matt Polster, John Goossens and Alex Morrell were also out injured against D.C.
Thiam, 22, is a box-to-box midfielder who on paper would seem like a good fit to line up next to Polster as one of the two central mids in Paunovic’s 4-2-3-1 formation. This season for MTK, Thiam made 31 appearances, 27 starts, and scored two goals.
“He can play in different positions in the midfield," Paunovic said. "He can play in different systems. So far we were using 4-2-3-1 as our basic system, standard. In that system he can play either together with another midfielder (or in other roles). He’s going to increase that competitiveness. We can also switch to a 4-3-3, 3-5-2. Being adaptable he can play in different systems and roles, that’s something we value a lot."
He started his professional career in Hungary, playing the past four seasons in that league. He totaled 72 appearances and seven goals in that time.
Fire midfielder Arturo Alvarez played in Hungary before joining the Fire this offseason. A few weeks ago when the rumors started swirling, Alvarez was asked if he had heard of him. For what it's worth, Alvarez recalled him right away and described Thiam as a nice player, who was "tidy" on the ball.
Artemi Panarin has been named a 2016 Calder Trophy finalist, annually awarded to the "most proficient" player in his rookie season in the National Hockey League.
Philadelphia's Shayne Gostisbehere and Edmonton's Connor McDavid rounded out the top 3.
Panarin, 24, led all rookies this season with 77 points — 30 goals, 47 assists — in 80 regular-season games. Seven of his 30 goals turned out to be the game-winner, which also ranked No. 1 among first-year players.
The last player to record at least 77 points during his rookie season was Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin when he compiled 85 points in 2006-07.
Panarin had one of the best rookie seasons in franchise history, with only Steve Larmer putting up more points (90) in 1982-83.
He became the first Blackhawks rookie to register four-point games in back-to-back contests when on April 1 against Winnipeg — two goals, two assists) and on April 3 against Boston — one goal, three assists.
Panarin also became the first rookie in franchise history to record multi-goal games in consecutive appearances — on Jan. 5 and 6 against the Penguins — since 2005 (Pavel Vorobiev).
Gostisbehere had 17 goals and 29 assists in 64 regular-season games this season with the Flyers. His 46 points ranked No. 1 among rookie defensemen despite getting called up to the NHL in mid-November.
McDavid had 48 points in 45 regular-season games this season with the Oilers. He missed three months with a collarbone injury, but ranked first among rookies in points per game (1.07).
The winner will be announced Wednesday, June 22 at the 2016 NHL Awards in Las Vegas.