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Heyward focuses on positives of taxing year

Outfielder overcame appendectomy, broken jaw to help Braves win NL East

LOS ANGELES -- Individually, Jason Heyward fought through an appendectomy in April and was hit by a fastball in the jaw in August, both of which sidelined him for a month. He kept coming back.

As a club, the Braves fought through injuries to their pitching staff and questions surrounding a young roster. They kept coming back.

Ultimately, however, Monday's 4-3 loss to the Dodgers, in which Heyward went 0-for-5 and fanned three times, wasn't the storybook ending the Braves center fielder had fought back for.

"When you don't accomplish a goal that you work so hard for and you make so many sacrifices for, it's definitely a disappointment," Heyward said. "You feel bad for the guy next to you."

But following the crushing defeat, Heyward was quick to point out the deep respect he had for the group of players in the Atlanta clubhouse.

"I appreciate it always, every day I come to work with this group," Heyward said. "First place in our division -- that's my first division title as a Major League Baseball player. A lot of firsts coming into this year, for me. That's what you hope to have -- a lot of good firsts."

The season of firsts came to an end Monday night, and Heyward's struggles in the leadoff spot against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw were a big reason why. In 10 lifetime at-bats against the left-hander, Heyward is 0-for-10 with seven strikeouts, including an 0-for-6 effort in the National League Division Series.

Heyward certainly had his moments this week. His two-run single in the seventh inning of Game 2 put the Braves ahead, 4-1, in a game they would eventually win by a run. He also added a two-run homer in the ninth-inning of Monday's Game 3 defeat.

But ultimately, Heyward struggled mightily in the series. Hitting leadoff in all four games, he went 3-for-18 without a walk, leaving his on-base percentage at a dismal .167 for the postseason. In his three career playoff appearances, Heyward is hitting just .154 with only two extra-base hits.

"All the regular-season accomplishments -- those don't count anymore once you get to the postseason," Heyward said. "That's something I know, watching the game growing up and experiencing it."

Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman was quick to point out what Heyward meant to the club, during both the regular season and the postseason.

"We all went down fighting," Freeman said. "Jason was unbelievable, to come back from a broken jaw with what he did. He got a big hit in Game 2. This game wouldn't have happened without him."

Heyward's numbers dropped from a 2012 campaign that was arguably the best of his career. He played in just 104 games this season and hit .254. His 14 home runs tied a career low and his 38 RBIs were the fewest of his four big league seasons, though that's likely a result stemming from his hitting at the top of the order.

But for all Heyward went through this season, he wasn't ready to call it a failure.

"I did what I'm always going to do: fight and work to get better," Heyward said. "Try to improve the best I can and continue to grow up. I feel like each one of us this year was asked to do a lot as a young team -- myself included. We stepped up to the challenge, and I'm looking forward."

AJ Cassavell is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.
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