Cubs hope Heyward's return helps against Rays (Jul 05, 2017)

BY AP • July 5, 2017

CHICAGO -- Jason Heyward is back in business.

The Chicago Cubs right fielder returned to action Tuesday for the first time since June 18, when a left hand abrasion interrupted his season for the second time and left him sidelined for 14 games.

He went 1-for-4 with an RBI single on Tuesday, though the Tampa Bay Rays held on for a 6-5 victory despite a last-ditch, ninth-inning Cubs rally. Heyward flied out to end the game.

"It felt good to be out there," Heyward said. "I wish I would have come through on (a ninth-inning) at-bat. (But) good job for us to battle back and give ourselves an opportunity."

It was a welcomed return to the everyday lineup for a Gold Glove defensive stalwart who also had displayed an improved bat.

Heyward enjoyed a strong start to the season, batting .279 before his first disabled-list stint. In 2016, he hit a career-low .230 with seven home runs and 49 RBIs. He is now batting .257 with six homers and 29 RBIs in 55 games.

He sustained a serious cut on his left palm with a layer of skin ripped off while chasing a foul ball on June 18 at Pittsburgh. His first stint on the disabled list in May was due to a sprained finger on his right hand.

Heyward recently played two games at Class A South Bend as part of a rehab assignment, going 3-for-4 with a walk, two runs and an RBI.

To make room for Heyward's return, Chicago optioned infielder Jeimer Candelario and right-hander Felix Pena to Triple-A Iowa. The Cubs also promoted left-hander Jack Leathersich from Iowa.

Tampa Bay hopes to remain in the hunt for postseason play in the second half, and some good fortune for Wednesday starter Blake Snell (0-5, 5.36 ERA) would be a plus as he faces Chicago for the first time.

He hasn't had a big league victory since Sept. 22, 2016, against the New York Yankees, and he was rocked early in his Friday return to the majors after a stint at Triple-A Durham.

Snell got two first-inning outs on five pitches Friday, then gave up four runs, all with two outs, against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He lasted five innings, allowing six runs on four hits while walking five and striking out six.

"I felt there was improvement, and I hope Blake felt that there was improvement," Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said last week. "But there also needs to be considerably more improvement."

Snell is the first Rays pitcher with losses in his first five decisions since 2007, when Edwin Jackson (0-8) and Dan Wheeler (0-5) similarly struggled.

On Wednesday, he will face Cubs right-hander John Lackey (5-9, 5.24 ERA), who has had his own recent struggles.

Lackey is 1-5 with a no-decision in seven outings since May 22. In his last appearance, on June 28 at Washington, he allowed a season-high eight runs on nine hits over 5 1/3 innings.

Lackey is 13-8 with a 4.00 ERA in 24 career starts against Tampa Bay. He last faced the Rays on July 26, 2014, while with the Boston Red Sox.

Snell will oppose the Cubs for the first time.

Following the two-game Rays series, the Cubs host the Milwaukee Brewers in a Thursday makeup game and then welcome Pittsburgh for a three-game weekend series before heading into the All-Star break.

The Rays return home to start a four-game series against Boston on Thursday.

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