The Chicago Cubs are not only starting Kyle Schwarber in Game 1 of the World Series, but they’re also benching big offseason acquisition Jason Heyward.
Schwarber was thrown right into the fire, batting fifth and playing designated hitter against the Cleveland Indians Tuesday night. In another surprise move, Chris Coghlan took over for Heyward in right field against Cleveland right-hander Corey Kluber. Both Heyward and Coghlan are left-handed hitters.
After batting .230 with seven homers and 49 RBIs during the regular season, Heyward is 2-for-28 with no homers and one RBI this postseason. The 27-year-old Heyward signed an eight-year, $184 million contract with the Cubs this offseason.
“There is no time left in the year to get him back in the groove like we were trying to do earlier this year,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “We’ll see what it looks like tonight. We’ll let it play out tonight and then make our determination for tomorrow.”
Even though Heyward has struggled at the plate, however, he is known as one of the best defensive outfielders in the game. Leaving him out of the lineup is especially surprising because Jon Lester will be on the mound for the Cubs. The left-hander’s struggles holding runners on base have pushed Maddon to play more defensive lineups behind the starter. Heyward started behind Lester in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers — a Cubs win.
Coghlan is not known for his outstanding defense, but he’s a .268 lifetime hitter against right-handers. He has one hit, a double, in three plate appearances against Kluber. Heyward is 0-for-3 against Kluber.
The 23-year-old Schwarber returns to the team a little more than six months after having surgery to repair two torn ligaments in his left knee. Doctors cleared him Oct. 17 to hit and run, but he won’t play the field.
He said that he thought it was realistic to return this season only about six days ago. He has been seeing the doctor every month or two and the timetable was always for a spring training return.
“Then this past doctor’s visit I had right before we went to L.A. for the CS he looked at my knee, he’s like, ‘Man, it’s great. You’re strong. I’m not going to hold you back from doing anything,’” Schwarber said. “So then we went from there.”
Schwarber takes the roster spot of lefty reliever Rob Zastryzny, who was needed in the NLCS because of a heavily left-handed-hitting Dodgers lineup. The Cubs will employ 11 pitchers and 14 position players for the World Series, the same numbers they used in the NLDS. There were no other changes to their roster from the previous round.
Schwarber is the franchise’s postseason home run leader after hitting five in 2015. He made his first career start against the Indians in June 2015, going 4-for-5 at Progressive Field. He’s also an Ohio native.
He said appearing in the World Series hasn’t sunk in yet.
“I’d say probably once I hit that line, that a lot of emotions will come pouring out,” he said. “I’ll probably cry at some point today. It was a long road, but once we stepped in between those lines, it’s game time. I’m going to be locked in. I’m going to be ready to go and go out there and try to win this.”