Heyward will be re-introduced to a sense of normalcy today
Jason Heyward will make a significant step in his recovery process when he takes batting practice with his Braves teammates before tonight’s game series opener against the Padres. Heyward will swing the bat, run, shag fly balls and essentially re-introduce himself to most of the normal pregame activities he experienced before his jaw was fractured on Aug. 21.
Heyward is expected to repeat these activities over the next few days and will likely accompany the Braves when they travel to Washington D.C. on Sunday night to prepare for a three-game series against the Nationals. This creates the possibility that he will be with his teammates when they celebrate clinching the National League East. But more importantly, these next few days will give him and the club a better understanding about when he could return to Atlanta’s lineup.
The timeline for return will be based on how Heyward feels after completing these activities. But barring any setbacks, there is certainly reason to believe he could begin playing in Instructional League games at the Braves’ Spring Training complex before the end of next week.
Going to the Instructional League for a few days will allow Heyward to re-acquaint himself with the speed of the game and compile as many at-bats as he desires. Along with helping him regain a feel for his swing and approach, the chance to see live pitching will also serve as the only way Heyward will begin to distance himself from any lingering fear that has developed since his jaw was shattered by Jon Niese’s fastball a little more than three weeks ago.
If he continues to make progress, there is certainly a chance Heyward will be back in Atlanta’s lineup at some point during the regular season’s final week.
As things currently stand, Heyward could find himself as the club’s starting center fielder when he returns. If this proves to be true, Justin Upton would be in right field and Evan Gattis would handle the left field duties.
While hitting .314 with a .771 slugging percentage in the nine games he has played since returning from his short stint with Triple-A Gwinnett, Gattis has forced the Braves to find an everyday spot in their lineup. There will be some days when he spells McCann at the catcher’s position. But as long as he does not slump down the stretch, Gattis will likely continue to play left field on a regular basis.
Gattis’ recent surge has further clouded what the next few weeks have in store for B.J. Upton, who was not in the lineup for three of the four games played against the Marlins earlier this week. Jordan Schafer will likely continue to get the start in center field whenever the Braves are facing a right-handed starter and B.J. could get some starts in games the opponent starts a left-hander.
Unlike Dan Uggla, B.J. has at least shown some signs of encouragement over the past few weeks. There is a chance he could produce the latest of his hot streaks again over the next few weeks. But as was mentioned earlier this week, his opportunities will likely be limited. And they will be reduced even more if Heyward does indeed return to the starting lineup in the near future.