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Heyward's night off has nothing to do with Niese

NEW YORK -- Instead of attempting to halt his early-season struggles while facing Mets left-hander Jon Niese for the first time since their last encounter left him fractured and bloodied, Jason Heyward was given a chance to rest as the Braves opened a three-game series on Friday night at Citi Field.

"It's ironic this is the first day off," said Heyward, whose jaw was fractured when Niese's wayward fastball dented the right side of his face on Aug. 21.

Manager Fredi Gonzalez decided to rest Heyward before he learned that this would have been the first time he'd face Niese since that scary at-bat.

"I didn't even think about it until [Friday] afternoon. when [hitting coach Greg Walker] and I were talking," Gonzalez said. "I have never seen any residual effects since Heyward came back."

Gonzalez said that his decision had more to do with simply feeling this was the right time to rest Heyward, who has batted .136 with a .271 on-base percentage while manning the leadoff spot through each of the previous 15 games.

"He's been one of the unluckiest guys," Gonzalez said. "He's hit the ball hard. I don't know what his batting average is for hard-hit balls, but it has to be up there."

Heyward's struggles are reminiscent of last season when he struck out once every 5.75 plate appearances and compiled a .114 BAbip (batting average balls in play) while hitting .121 through his first 17 games. This season he has struck out once every 4.11 plate appearances, but he has produced a line drive in 19 percent of his plate appearances, which is slightly higher than the career percentage (18) he carried into the season.

"It looks worse than I'm feeling," Heyward said. "I've just got to keep going and keep playing, keep feeling better and getting more comfortable. Everything is going to be fine. I've done this more times than I would have liked before, and I've been more than pleased with [how] the rest of the season has gone for me."

With Heyward out of the lineup on Friday night, Gonzalez opted to use Andrelton Simmons as his leadoff hitter. Simmons had gone a Major League-best 52 plate appearances before striking out for the first time on Thursday.

While compiling the .346 on-base percentage he carried into Friday, Simmons has provided some indication that he possesses better plate discipline than he did when he proved unsuccessful in the leadoff role.

But Gonzalez stressed that Heyward will be back in the leadoff spot when he returns to the lineup for Saturday night's game against the Mets.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for
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