Braves outfielder goes 0-for-2 with walk in five innings in first game back
CHICAGO -- Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez received a welcome surprise when Jason Heyward entered his office early Friday morning and told him he was ready to return to action.
With this revelation, the Braves activated Heyward from the disabled list and immediately put him in the lineup for Friday afternoon's 9-5 win over the Cubs. The 24-year-old outfielder drew a walk, scored a run and went hitless in two at-bats while playing his first game since his jaw was fractured by Mets left-hander Jon Niese's fastball on Aug. 21.
"It wasn't hard to get up for that game at all," Heyward said. "It was a lot of fun. I had a blast."
Displaying the protective face guard that will be attached to his batting helmet for the remainder of the season, Heyward opened the game with a 10-pitch at-bat that resulted in a strikeout and provided indication that his timing is not too far away from returning to normal.
"It was a good day," Heyward said. "I swung at strikes. Timing is going to come. It's going to happen."
Heyward's teammates did not learn he was returning until Friday's lineup was posted in the clubhouse, showing him batting leadoff and playing center field.
"They wrote the lineup up on the whiteboard and his name went up first and the guys erupted," Chris Johnson said. "The guys went nuts. It's good to have him back."
Given he had not played in any games for nearly a full month, the Braves limited Heyward to five innings on Friday. Heyward will rest on Saturday and then return to the lineup for Sunday's series finale against the Cubs.
"I'm just really excited and happy to be back on the field again," Heyward said. "I know I'll be better in five days. But you've got to start the process somewhere."
Getting Heyward back in their lineup with 10 games remaining in the regular season could prove to be a great benefit to the Braves once the postseason arrives. Atlanta's best offensive stretch of this season came while Heyward hit .345 with five home runs and a .418 on-base percentage in the 23 games he played after moving to the leadoff spot on July 27.
As Jordan Schafer and B.J. Upton have both struggled over the past couple weeks, it had become apparent that the Braves were planning to use Heyward as their center fielder once he returned. This allows them to keep Evan Gattis' dangerous bat in their lineup. Gattis is expected to continue getting regular time in left field while Justin Upton will take care of Heyward's former duties in right field.
"This gets us one step closer to having our team intact," Braves general manager Frank Wren said.
A batting-practice session thrown by Minor Leaguer Mark Lamm at Nationals Park on Wednesday was the first time Heyward had seen live pitching since suffering the injury. Rain prevented the Braves from following through with their plan to allow David Hale to throw to Heyward on Thursday at Wrigley Field.
Still, Heyward was confident that he was ready to make an immediate return to the lineup. He had made it known earlier this week that he was not interested in the possibility of flying to Florida to face pitches thrown by Braves Minor Leaguers who are participating in the instructional league.
"There was no indication [seeing live pitching] was much of an adjustment for Jason," Wren said. "You start looking for signs and we never saw any of them. It was just a feel thing. That is why we couldn't really nail a date. We had hoped it would be as early as this weekend or as late as Monday."