According to a report from MLB.com’s Mark Bowman the Atlanta Braves could have starting center fielder Jason Heyward back in their lineup as early as next week, just in time for the playoffs. Heyward has been sidelined since August 21st when his jaw was shattered after he was hit in the face by a Jon Niese fastball in what was a scary incident for all involved.
Heyward was expected to miss the rest of the regular season, but his recovery and rehabilitation have gone exceptionally well. Heyward took live batting practice for the first time since suffering the injury on Wednesday and things looked good for the Atlanta outfielder.
“It went well, and that is not an easy thing to do,” Braves hitting coach Greg Walker said of the session. “Now it is all about him getting his timing.”
The Braves haven’t set a return date for Heyward, but manager Freddie Freeman suggested that they did not plan to send Heyward down to the instructional league, instead preferring that he continues to work with the big league club. This would seem to suggest that a return date is sooner rather than later, with Bowman suggesting that it could even come before the end of the regular season.
“I’ll play it by ear,” Heyward said. “I’m just taking it day by day now. We’ll see what happens this weekend and how I’m feeling when I get back home.”
Heyward would likely reclaim his spot in center field upon his return with Justin Upton and Evan Gattis taking over in right field and left field respectively.
“Being in the outfield is the biggest thing,” Heyward said. “That is the position where you need to have your legs under you. The way I play the game, I’m going to run into the wall sometimes. I’m going to lay out to try to make a play. I’m going to run to try to take an extra base. I need to be able to do those things. That is where I help this team. But for it to come, it’s going to come playing in baseball games for it to fully come back.”
The 24-year-old Heyward was hitting .254/.348/.426 with 13 home runs in 94 games this season. Heyward seems cursed with injury issues as he has missed time this year due to an appendectomy and a strained hamstring as well as the broken jaw. The Braves are a much more dynamic offence when they have his bat in the lineup, as the team has sputtered since his injury.
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