La Stella bumped to leadoff, Heyward to fifth
ATLANTA -- On Wednesday, for the first time since last July 27, a healthy Jason Heyward did not bat leadoff for the Braves. Manager Fredi Gonzalez decided to bat rookie Tommy La Stella atop the order and bump Heyward down to the fifth spot.
Although La Stella finished 0-for-4 with a walk, posting only his fifth hitless performance in 19 Major League games, the Braves tallied five runs in a 10-5 loss to the Phillies and Heyward reached base three times across four plate appearances in the heart of the order.
When Gonzalez approached Heyward about the lineup change, the outfielder simply told his skipper, "Whatever you want. Whatever you want me to do."
"I think the world of Jason Heyward," Gonzalez said. "I think that he can hit anywhere in the lineup and be productive, and so that's the reason he's hitting fifth, right behind [Evan] Gattis. And Tommy's a guy, I've been watching him over 15 games or so, 17 games. He [may not be] a base stealer or a base burner, but I think he runs the bases well enough. I put him out there in the leadoff spot to do his thing. He doesn't have to change anything in his approach. He's got a good eye at the plate and is going to put the ball in play."
La Stella's first career game in the leadoff spot came on a day when Atlanta held B.J. Upton, Justin Upton and Andrelton Simmons out of the starting lineup to rest. But Gonzalez may not be so quick to bump La Stella back down when those three return as the Braves hit the road for an 11-game road trip beginning Thursday.
Although Wednesday ended in defeat, Atlanta plated five runs on nine hits with three regulars out of the lineup. If La Stella continues to rake at his current clip -- he is batting .343 (24-for-66) with a .410 on-base percentage -- the young second baseman could potentially spend more time in the No. 1 spot.
"You know me; I don't do things [as a] just knee-jerk reaction, so I may," Gonzalez said. "We'll see how it goes today, and then when you plug in B.J. tomorrow and you plug Simmons in there tomorrow and you plug in Justin again there tomorrow, we'll see how the dynamic of that lineup works."
Meanwhile, Gonzalez is hopeful that Heyward's recent tear in the batter's box might help jolt an offense that has struggled to consistently score runs. Heyward is batting .297 (43-for-145) with six homers and a .378 OBP since May 10.
"He's been productive in the leadoff spot for almost 100 games," Gonzalez said. "But then we also hit two years ago -- 2011 or maybe 2012, he hit third and was productive in the three-spot. He's a special guy, so we'll see how it goes."