Results tagged ‘ Jason Heyward ’

Heyward hits the roof with his first blast

Given that this is Spring Training, I could tell you that Jason Heyward’s first homer of the Grapefruit League season came off Max Scherzer’s 100-mph fastball and traveled about 500 feet before piercing the roof of a building located beyond the right field wall. 

Truth be told, this account wouldn’t necessarily be deemed a drastic dramatization of what occurred during the first inning of Monday afternoon’s game against the Tigers at Joker Marchant Stadium. 

Heyward’s  first blast of the year did come at the expense of  hard-throwing Scherzer and did dent the metal roof that covers the batting cages located beyond the right field wall here in Lakeland.

Conservatively the ball traveled at least 420 feet bounced off the roof covering the batting cages and then shattered Braves assistant general manager Bruce Manno’s sunroof yet again.

OK, the part about Manno’s vehicle incurring further damage courtesy of Heyward’s powerful bat was indeed further fabrication.  But as the legend of this 20-year-old outfielder grows, he continues to do things that seem too good to be true. 

Along with displaying the power of his 6-foot-5, 245-pound frame with this homer, Heyward once again showed the kind of plate discipline that allowed him to draw four walks in the first 13 plate appearances he compiled this year. 

Before sending Scherzer’s 3-2 fastball into orbit, Heyward battled back from an 0-2 hole.

This more than the power led former Braves outfielder and current broadcaster Brian Jordan to approach me a few minutes later and say, “Are you impressed yet.” 

Quite frankly, it’s been easy to be impressed with something different about Heyward on a daily basis.   

   

Jurrjens throws while Chipper and Heyward sit

MLB.com’s Peter Gammons arrived in Braves camp today just in time for Jason Heyward’s first day off since the Grapefruit League season began. 

Braves manager Bobby Cox said he selfishly wanted to put Heyward in the lineup for the sixth straight day, but was persuaded by his bench coach Chino Cadahia a day to rest.

Chipper Jones will also miss this afternoon’s game against the Astros because of a jammed right thumb that he incurred when he got jammed with a pitch on Friday.  Not wanting to aggravate this ailment that he has occasionally battled in the past, Jones plans to rest at least one more day before possibly returning to the lineup on Tuesday night against Roy Halladay and the Phillies.

Jair Jurrjens’ 24-pitch live batting practice session was completed in a pain-free manner this morning and the 24-year-old right-hander will likely repeat this exercise on Wednesday.  It now appears that his first Grapefruit League start could come Saturday against the Blue Jays.

Scott Proctor also impressed Braves manager Bobby Cox with the live batting practice session he completed this morning.

“He’s really firing the ball,” Cox said of the right-handed reliever, who is coming back from Tommy John surgery.

Proctor could begin pitching in games within the next week to 10 days.  Once he does, the Braves will gain a better sense about when he could be added to their outfield mix.  While possible, Opening Day still seems to be a rather optimistic projection.     

BRAVES LINEUP vs. Astros

Nate McLouth 8
Martin Prado 4
Melky Cabrera 9
Troy Glaus 3
Brian McCann 2
Yunel Escobar 6
Matt Diaz 7
Brooks Conrad 5
Tommy Hanson 1

Heyward still impressing

Despite the fact that he struck out for the first time this year, Jason Heyward enjoyed another productive day during Saturday afternoon’s 3-0 loss to the Astros at Kissimmee.

When Heyward struck out against Jeff Fulchino in the third inning, it marked the first time he had done so in 14 Grapefruit League at-bats.  But two innings later the 20-year-old right fielder showed off his legs while hustling into second base with a double to right field.

More impressive was the patience that Heyward showed when he spit on Roy Oswalt’s 3-2 breaking ball in the first inning.  Through his first 15 plate appearances this year, the Braves phenom has hit .400 (4-for-10) with two doubles, drawn four walks and damaged the baseball that hit him after being thrown by Pirates pitcher Charlie Morton on Friday. 

Braves Chairman and CEO Terry McGuirk returned to Florida on Saturday morning and said that everywhere he goes in Atlanta people are talking about Heyward. 

While there are those who may still argue that the club could benefit financially by sending him to the Minors to begin the season, the club continues to provide no reason that they will go this route unless he gives them a sense he is not ready for the Majors. 

So far, that hasn’t happened and if you want to argue this from a financial standpoint, he is the one guy in the organization that could influence the attendance totals at Turner Field. 

Medlen’s control:  Kris Medlen worked two scoreless innings on Saturday afternoon, dented the backstop with a couple of wayward warmup tosses and kept the Astros off balance while throwing 15 of his 35 pitches for strikes. 

Medlen issued consecutive walks to load the bases in the second inning with nobody out in the second inning and then induced a popout before escaping unscathed with a double-play groundout.

“With the bases loaded, I just decided I would grip it and throw it,” Medlen said. 

Medlen said that he over-corrected the delivery of his four-seamer after it cut on him a couple of times in the bullpen. After developing a two-seamer last year, he went away from throwing the traditional fastball as often as he had in the past.

“I made pitches when I had to,” Medlen said. “It’s Spring and it’s early and my arm feels fine.  It was just the over correction and the whole mental part of it.”

While Medlen has a bullpen spot that will be secured as long as he has a decent Spring, Manny Acosta is still a part of that bullpen battle that has been altered with the early struggles incurred by Jesse Chavez. 

Acosta seemed to aid his cause on Saturday, allowing one unearned run and recording three strikeouts in two innings. 

“You can’t throw any better than that,” Cox said. “He was really impressive today.”

Another pitcher that caught Cox’s eyes was the hard-throwing Kyle Cofield, who allowed a hit and recorded a strikeout in his one scoreless inning.  The 23-year-old right-hander will quickly rise to the Majors if he consistently shows the kind of control that he did against the Astros.

As you may remember, earlier this week an American League scout said that Cofield reminded him of John Smoltz.

Tommy Hanson will be back on the mound tomorrow afternoon when the Braves host the Astros.  Peter Moylan highlights the list of relievers scheduled to appear.     
 

McDowell taking superstitious approach with Jurrjens

Roger McDowell ended his playing career 14 years ago.  But as he enters his fifth season as the Braves pitching coach, it’s apparent that the old prankster hasn’t lost his belief in the superstitious element of the game.

After revealing that Jair Jurrjens experienced another pain-free mound session on Friday morning, McDowell was asked whether the 24-year-old right-hander would now be cleared to begin throwing live batting practice. 

McDowell limited his response to “we’ll see” and then smirked when asked if he was simply choosing not to put the cart before the horse. 

Given the important role Jurrjens is expected to play during the upcoming season, it’s easy to understand why McDowell has chosen not to tempt the superstition gods. 

But further encouraged by the fact that his shoulder provided no discomfort while he threw all of his pitches during Friday’s mound session, Jurrjens expressed nothing but confidence when asked if he would be ready for his scheduled regular season debut on April 7. 

“I’m going to be ready,” Jurrjens said.  “I’ll definitely be ready.”

When Jurrjens reported to camp three weeks ago, he was dealing with inflammation that formed around his shoulder after he made an awkward throw to second base.  He has since showed steady progress and now finds himself solely bothered by some stiffness that is felt when he begins warming up.

Jurrjens said this stiffness usually subsides about five minutes into his warmup exercises.  He has continued to utilize some of the stretching exercises that were prescribed after he received the results of an MRI exam that was performed in Atlanta on Feb. 16. 

Heyward in the two hole: Jason Heyward will bat second again during this afternoon’s game against the Nationals.  While this essentially means nothing, it provides proof that Bobby Cox is at least toying with the idea of having his 20-year-old right fielder sit in front of Chipper Jones in the lineup.

During his Minor League career, Heyward has shown the ability to consistently put the ball in play and compile high on-base percentages.  Whether he is capable of establishing these trends at the Major League level remains to be seen.

But there’s certainly reason to understand why the Braves are looking at this as a possibility.

I’m not sure you’d necessarily want a pair of left-handers (Nate McLouth and Heyward) sitting in the first two spots against a left-handed starter. But they could always bat Yunel Escobar, Matt Diaz, Martin Prado or Melky Cabrera in the leadoff spot when pitted against a southpaw.

BRAVES LINEUP vs. Nats

Prado 4
Heyward 9
Chipper 5
Glaus 3
McCann 2
Escobar 6
Cabrera 8
Ross DH
Clevlen 7

Derek Lowe gets the start today and as mentioned before both Billy Wagner and Takashi Saito are scheduled to pitch.  Even though he was pitched on Wednesday, Mike Minor is still listed among the available relievers.   

Moylan working on change with Garber

Before traveling back to his Pennsylvania farm, Gene Garber had the opportunity to watch Peter Moylan unleash a healthy dose of changeups during the scoreless inning he completed against the Mets on Wednesday afternoon. 

During his 19-season big league career, Garber made a habit out of baffling opposing hitters with the changeup he was able to throw with his sidearm delivery.  As Bobby Cox remembers, this was the pitch the old sidewinder used to end Pete Rose’s 44-game hitting streak in 1978.

“He had one of the best changeups in the game and that’s a pitch that I’m missing,” Moylan said.  “Any kind of advice he can give me with different grips and different releases is great.”

As a former reliever who utilized the same sinker-slider repertoire as Moylan, Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell has helped the Australian reliever with his mental approach and also been able to aid him with the mechanics of his delivery. 

But with traditional throwing motion, McDowell doesn’t the experiences that Garber has utilized the past two years in his attempt to help Moylan develop this changeup that he plans to utilize in an attempt to improve his success against left-handers. 

Last year Moylan limited right-handed hitters to a .211 batting average and .271 on-base percentage.  Left-handers batted .309 and produced a .436 OBP against him. 

With this in mind, Cox was pleased that Moylan was able to face four left-handed hitters (including the switch-hitting Angel Pagan) on Wednesdy. 

“He threw some dandies,” Cox said, referring obviously to the changeups. 

QUICK HITS:

Should it surprise you that Cox once again sent praise in the direction of Jason Heyward during Wednesday’s postgame session?  The 20-year-old showed good range going back and coming forward on two fly balls during the first inning.  Then after slipping in the outfield grass the next inning, he kept his poise and snared a Fernando Tatis flyball while still on the ground.

“He’s getting great jumps,” Cox said. “It’s the little fundamental things that we’ve talked about. Instinctively, at 20-years-old, he’s way ahead of the game.”

Cox also had nothing but good things to say about Mike Minor, who worked a perfect eighth, and Jeff Lyman, a 22-year-old right-hander who recorded a pair of strikeouts in a perfect ninth.

“The two young kids, Minor and Lyman, pretty darn impressive,” Cox said. “Really impressive.  I was impressed so much with Minor and then here comes Lyman and he did just as well.   Those are two really good looking kids.”

Kenshin Kawakami will be making his Grapefruit League season debut on Thursday afternoon against the Pirates.  He’ll be opposed by our old friend Charlie Morton, who was traded to Pittsburgh last year in the deal that brought Nate McLouth to Atlanta.

Follow me on Twitter @mlbbowman 
     

A review of the Grapefruit League opener

One game into the Braves exhibition season, Tommy Hanson has provided the reminder that he’s a special talent and Martin Prado has already laced a couple of liners that provide indication that he can still hit with his slimmed-down frame. 

And of course, Mr Heyward took advantage of the opportunity to prove his game consists of much more than the power potential that fueled all of those batting practice stories that you read last week. 

Bobby Cox called Heyward’s third-inning single through the right side of the infield, ”  “the hardest-hit single you’ll ever see in your life.”   But just as impressive was the 20-year-old outfielder’s ability to draw a walk after falling behind with a 1-2 count in the first inning.  

After showing good bat control while fouling off an offspeed pitch that seemed to initially fool him, Heyward showed great poise while sitting on a 3-2 curveball.  Then two innings later wanting to increase Yunel Escobar’s options to drive him home with one out, the 6-foot-5, 245-pound outfielder easily swiped third base.

As Heyward slid into third base, I immediately thought about Chipper Jones saying that the phenom would earn a spot on the Opening Day roster once he proved that he has a grasp of the finer points of the game  — like knowing when to hit to the right side and knowing when to take an extra base.  

After the game, I caught up with Darryl Strawberry, who is in camp with the Mets as a special instructor.  The eight-time All-Star had some praise for the Braves outfielder, who has drawn comparisons to him.

“He has a tremendous amount of confidence in himself,” Strawberry said.  “That’s a big part of this game.  If you believe in yourself, you can excel.  He has a good idea about what the game is all about.  He’s going to go through some highs and lows.  That’s just what the game is all about for everybody.  If he stays focused and plays hard, he will be very special.”

Check out more of Strawberry’s comments within a story that should post shortly on MLB.com and braves.com.  

If Heyward isn’t deemed ready for the Majors at the conclusion of camp, the starting rightfielder’s job will go to Melky Cabrera, who laced a single the other way during the second inning and made an over-the-shoulder catch that drew attention from Cox.

“It wasn’t a great play,” Cox said. “But it was a (darn) good play in these conditions with the wind and you couldn’t see the ball.”

Cox also took time to send some praise in the direction of Kris Medlen, who allowed one hit and registered a strikeout in two scoreless innings.    

Tuesday’s negatives:  Nate McLouth experienced a rough debut with a pair of strikeouts, including one that was registered with a questionable call on a check swing.   Another former Pirate, Jesse Chavez also proved unable to provide the same kind of impression he had during the early days of camp. 

Chavez was charged with three runs  — two earned — three hits and one walk in just one inning of work.   His damage might have been reduced had shortstop Brandon Hicks not lost a liner in the sun.

“Chavez was just geeked up a little bit, just fastball, fastball, fastball,” Cox said. “He fell behind and got hit.  He didn’t really have a chance to pitch.”

Tomorrow’s game:  Tim Hudson is scheduled to pitch the first two innings of Wednesday afternoon’s game against the Mets at Disney.  Peter Moylan and Eric O’Flaherty headline the cast of relievers who are scheduled to appear.  Chipper Jones and Troy Glaus should also be making their exhibition season debuts.   

 

Heyward set to make GL season debut

The heavy rains that pelted the Port St. Lucie area this morning have subsided and the sun is shining bright for this afternoon’s Grapefruit League season opener between the Braves and Mets. 

While the Mets opted to alter their starting lineup because of the soggy conditions, the Braves will be sending out most of their starters to play on what now appears to be a pretty dry field.  Don’t forget you can catch today’s game on MLB Network.

With Chipper Jones and Troy Glaus set to make their exhibition season debut tomorrow against the Mets in Disney, Jason Heyward will be batting in the third spot.   With the wind blowing out, could the legend of the 20-year-old outfielder grow even larger today?

BRAVES LINEUP
Nate McLouth 8
Martin Prado 4
Jason Heyward 9
Brian McCann 2
Yunel Escobar 6
Melky Cabrera 7
Eric Hinske 3
Omar Infante 5
Mitch Jones DH

Tommy Hanson is scheduled to pitch the first two innings.  Kris Medlen, Jesse Chavez, Mike Dunn, Chris Resop, James Parr and Manny Acosta will serve as the relievers. 

Heyward proving hazardous to health of vehicles

Jason Heyward will be the first to admit that it really doesn’t matter what he does at the plate while one of the Braves coaches are feeding him pitches. 

But my plan to avoid writing something about his batting practice exploits for a third consecutive day were erased when Bobby Cox informed us the club is actually thinking about instituting protective measures to guard against the fact that Heyward has spent this week attempting to do more damage to vehicles than a Toyota manufacturer. 

When architects constructed the Braves Spring Training complex (which officially became ESPN’s Wide World of Sports complex on Thursday afternoon) they obviously didn’t account for this Heyward-like power that provides a daily threat to the cars of the team’s execs who park just beyond the right field wall.

But when he deposited a BP pitch into the sunroof of assistant general manager Bruce Manno’s car on Tuesday afternoon, Heyward produced expensive reminder that these cars aren’t safe when he’s standing in the left side of the batter’s box.

Damages to Manno’s team-issued car were set at $3400.

Truth be told, these cars were in dangerous position before Heyward arrived on the scene.  Kurt Kemp, the club’s director of player personnel, had two of his windshields broken last year and Heyward had nothing to do with that shattered glass. 

When Cox told us the club was thinking about putting some protective netting in front of the cars, it seemed like he was initially joking.  But he said he was serious and then jokingly said the club was going to start fining Heyward, whose left-handed swing has already produced a number of impressive BP blasts this week. 

“We should fine him,” Cox joked. “Make him hit the ball the other way.”

As some of you may already know, Heyward is more than capable of also showing his power to the opposite direction.   During an intra-squad game last year, he directed a Jair Jurrjens pitch off the scoreboard located in left-center field.

Cox on Chipper:  When Chipper Jones was struggling down the stretch last year, he mentioned that he would contemplate retiring if he endured another season as frustrating as 2009 proved to be. 

When asked about this by a reporter on Thursday, Cox quickly said he never gave much thought to the possibility that Jones would choose to walk away from the game before completing his  three-year contract extension that guarantees a $13 million salary each of the next three seasons.

“I never took it to heart at all,” Cox said. “He’ll play three more years and play good.”     

Schafer update:  Like Jurrjens is taking things slow with the hope that his sore shoulder will be strong enough for him to begin throwing off a mound again next week, Jordan Schafer understands there’s no reason for him to push too hard while dealing with a hand that is still dealing with effect that he was in a cast for 18 weeks last year. 

Schafer said that he plans to begin swinging a bat again on Friday.  He took the past two days off because his surgically-repaired left hand was “feeling weak”. 

“I’ve got to build all of those muscles back up,” Schafer said Thursday morning. “It feels a lot better today. I just want to get all of my strength back.  I’ve got six weeks to get ready for the season.  I’m not in any hurry.”

Rotation plans : Cox met with pitching coach Roger McDowell after Thursday’s workout to discuss the Grapefruit League rotation.  He will likely reveal the plans within the next two days.  
 

Injury updates on Schafer and Jurrjens

Jordan Schafer has been dealing with a sore left hand the past couple of days and may not be permitted to begin swinging for another day or two.  But manager Bobby Cox said this discomfort has nothing to do with the portion of the hand that was surgically-repaired in September. 

“It’s not a setback, (the hand) is just sore,” said Cox, who added that the club will take things slow with Schafer to increase the chances that he will be ready for the start the season. 

Cox has also said he takes the blame for not taking Schafer out of the lineup sooner last year.  The 23-year-old outfielder injured his hand during the season’s fourth game and was hitting .204 with 63 strikeouts (50 games) when his everyday duties ended with a demotion to Triple-A Gwinnett on June 1. 

“I was kind of selfish because I left him in there because of his defense,” Cox said. “I thought we would hit enough to get by.”

Schafer served a 50-game suspension in 2008 and was limited to just 59 games (9 with Gwinnett) during last year’s injury-shortened season.  Having totaled just 499 at-bats the past two years combined, he will likely spend at least a few months with Gwinnett before getting another chance to prove himself in the Majors. 

Jurrjens update:  Jair Jurrjens said he felt even less discomfort while playing long toss today for the first time since undergoing his MRI exam last week.  The 23-year-old right-hander, who has been dealing with inflammation in his shoulder, remains hopeful that he’ll begin throwing off a mound again next week.

Youthful power:   After watching Jason Heyward dent a few vehicles with his batting practice display on Tuesday, Cox ventured back to the back fields today to see some of the other mortal prospects take their swings. 

Cox was impressed with what he saw from Freddie Freeman during the live batting practice session and then watched Cody Johnson unleash a few of his mighty swings when the coaches started throwing BP. 

“In BP, Cody will impress you as much as anybody,” Cox said of the 6-foot-5, 235-pound former first-round selection, who has hit 58 homers and registered  357 strikeouts in 912 at-bats during the past two seasons.

Even more impressive in batting practice than the 6-foot-5, 245 pound Heyward, who has hit 28 homers and registered 129 strikeouts during the past two seasons.

“I don’t know who is stronger to be honest with you,” Cox said. “We have to have two of the strongest kids in all of baseball.”

Odds and ends: As you have likely seen, former top prospect J.R. House signed a Minor League contract with the Braves and will likely spend most of his time at the corner positions with Gwinnett this year.  Given that he’s a former WVU football player, Gwinnett has already been declared the favorites in the International League…Here is a video clip of Edward Salcedo, the 18-year-old Dominican shortstop the Braves signed on Tuesday…Kenshin Kawakami and Takashi Saito completed their first live batting practice sessions on Wednesday.

 

Odds and ends from Day 4 at Braves camp

After Bobby Cox surprised his players by saying that he felt nervous while delivering this morning’s annual preseason speech, Jason Heyward lived up to expectations with an impressive power display during his first on-field batting practice session of the year. 

Well I guess you could argue that assistant general manager Bruce Manno wasn’t exactly expecting Heyward to drill his car with one of the many titantic shots that soared over the right field wall. 

But enough about what Heyward did against the batting practice pitches delivered by Terry Pendleton, who playfully threw behind the 20-year-old outfielder after nearly being hit with a liner that was torpedoed itself into the protective screen in front of the mound. 

The day’s most significant news centered around the signing of Edward Salcedo, the highly-regarded, 18-year-old Dominican shortstop.  At a cost of $1.6 million, the Braves believe that they secured one of the best available players in the international market. 

This deal was completed with a handshake last week.  But after the young shortstop’s agent then seemingly started soliciting other offers, Braves director of international scouting Johnny Almaraz went directly through Salcedo to get the deal completed. 

Some Braves talent evaluators have compared the 6-foot-3, 190-pound Salcedo to Hanley Ramirez. While it remains to be seen whether the kid can live up to this lofty comparison, there’s certainly reason to believe that he would have equated to a top 10 draft selection this year. 

Based on the way the Braves handled Yunel Escobar and many of their other young stars, I think it’s safe to assume that Salcedo will spend a majority of this season with Class A Rome.

Unless he utterly terrorizes the South Atlantic League, there’s little reason to believe that he would be rushed to Myrtle Beach this year.

Jurrjens update:  Jair Jurrjens played catch from a distance of 60 feet today and felt better than he did while completing this same exercise on Sunday.  If he feels good when he awakes on Wednesday, he’ll begin playing long toss and then possibly begin playing off the mound early next week. This still presents the possibility that he’d be ready for the start of the regular season. 

Jurrjens is feeling a slight pinch in the front of his shoulder when he releases the baseball.  But he has been encouraged that the discomfort level has steadily subsided over the last week. 

Lighter Prado: 
With assistance from the P90X nutrition plan, Martin Prado lost 14 pounds during the offseason and reported to camp noticeably leaner than he was last year.  This should certainly help increase his range at second base. 

Prado, who spent the offseason with his girlfriend here in the Orlando area, is happy to currently have his mother in the United States.  She will have to return to Venezuela next month, but will be permitted to return in June for an additional five months. 

This is obviously encouraging news for Prado, who began experiencing exertional headaches in August, while dealing with the stress he felt when his mother had to return to Venezuela.

Diory injured:
If you hadn’t already, you can erase Diory Hernandez from the list of candidates to fill one of the final roster spots.   The infielder injured his left shoulder while sliding into a base while playing in the Dominican Winter League.

Hernandez said he will begin hitting off a tee again in about a month.  But the club doesn’t believe he’ll be ready to resume playing for at least another 3-4 months. 

Murph’s neighbor:
When you look at the power numbers that Mitch Jones produced during his Minor League career, there’s reason to believe he would be physically imposing.  But the 32-year-old outfielder is just your run-of-the-mill 6-foot, 215 pound player, who obviously finds a way to generate power with his swing. 

Jones, who led the Minors with 35 homers last year, said that he has theorized his power is a product of the many hours he spent helping his dad screen print t-shirts in the family-owned screen printing shop. 

“I grew up a long time in a screen printing shop, screen printing shirts,” Jones said. “So I don’t know, maybe my hands got stronger.”

Jones’ Orem, Utah home is located just a few blocks away from Dale Murphy’s residence.  He said that he often runs into Murph at the local high school or Home Depot. 

Murphy is expected to be in camp within the next couple of weeks.  This year’s other special spring instructors will include Phil Niekro, Gene Garber and the always-popular Javy Lopez.     

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