Jake Arrieta did his best Friday night to alleviate fears that Jason Heyward could be lost for a long while.
Heyward helped Arrieta improve to 8-0 by making a diving catch of Denard Span’s drive before landing hard on the warning track and against the fence in right center.
But the effort forced Heyward to leave the game immediately and be placed under observation for his right torso/abdominal region.
Arrieta took over from there, leading the Cubs with his right arm and bat for an 8-1 victory over the Giants in a showdown of National League division leaders before a sellout crowd of 41,750 at AT&T Park.
Arrieta’s major league-leading ERA remained at 1.29, but his numbers continue to get better over a longer period. Arrieta improved to 19-0 with an 0.77 ERA in 21 starts since Aug. 1, 2015.
Since June 21, 2015, Arrieta is 24-1 with a 0.98 ERA with 47 walks and 210 strikeouts in 210 innings covering 29 starts. During that span, Arrieta has allowed three earned runs or fewer in each game.
Arrieta’s performance provided a temporary calming effect after Heyward was on the ground in pain for several minutes before walking off the field with the help of two trainers.
Heyward’s solid defense has taken some of the attention away from his .225 batting average and one home run after signing an eight-year, $184 million contract.
Should Heyward’s injury require a stay on the 15-day disabled list, the most likely candidate to take his place on the roster would be outfielder Matt Szczur.
Szczur, 26, was batting .367 in 30 at-bats before suffering a right hamstring strain on May 2 and going on the DL. Szczur went 0-for-1 with a walk and strikeouts in his first minor league rehabilitation game for Triple-A Iowa on Thursday.
The Cubs already lost left fielder Kyle Schwarber to a season-ending right knee injury on April 7 at Arizona.
Arrieta, meanwhile, recovered from a strange first inning in which he threw only five of 12 pitches for strikes. Yet, he broke the bat of All-Star catcher Buster Posey while inducing a feeble grounder back to the mound for the final out of the inning.
Arrieta needed only seven pitches to complete the sixth inning and finished with 111 pitches in seven innings.
Before the game, manager Joe Maddon gushed over Arrieta’s achievements.
When reminded that he managed David Price with the Rays, Maddon strengthened his case for Arrieta.
“I’ve never seen what he’s done right now,” Maddon said. “I’ve never seen anybody this consistent regarding an entire game over this period of time. Normally you get a nice month or six weeks, maybe a nice season. But it’s been beyond that. It’s not been nice. It’s legendary what he’s done to this point.
“It’s different watching him from the side. And again it’s not when a hitter swings at him. It’s how hitters take pitches that are called strikes against him that really indicates how really good his stuff is.”
Arrieta improved to 39-0 lifetime in games in which he receives five runs or more of support. He helped his cause in the second inning by hitting a soft single to center off Jake Peavy to give the Cubs a 1-0 lead.
Kris Bryant capped the rally with a three-run home run, and he added an RBI single in the ninth.
With Heyward out for potentially an extended period, the Cubs would welcome contributions like the performance Jorge Soler provided. Soler, who entered the game with a .187 batting average, started the rally in the second with a single and hit a home run in the eighth.
Soler also leaped against the left field wall to rob Posey of an extra base hit that likely would have scored two runs after the Giants pushed a run across on a single by Matt Duffy.
Ben Zobrist hit a solo home run over the right field wall in the eighth. It was 106th “Splash” home run at AT&T, and Zobrist joined Corey Patterson (Aug. 7, 2004) as the only Cubs players to hit home runs into the water here.