By Ray Glier
Special to the AJC
Jason Heyward is not up against a rookie wall he cannot burst through. He does not have to change his stance or adjust to pitchers who have adjusted to him.
He’s hurt. He finally said so.
Heyward, who has been loathe to make excuses for a slump that has dragged on for a month, was out of the lineup against the Tigers on Saturday and said he will miss Sunday’s game as well because of an injured left thumb. It is the top hand he uses for his quick, compact swing, and it has bothered him.
“It’s definitely bruised, it’s swollen, and it is also jammed,” said Heyward, whose average has sunk to .251. “You can’t bend it all the way. That’s where the difficult part is, holding the bat. The pain is doable; it’s just holding the bat.
“It affects consistency in the swing. Everything else around the swing, the load, the trigger, the timing, staying on the ball, you have to have that. But if you don’t have the swing you are not going to be consistent. I need to see what’s going on so I can get back to a more consistent swing.”
Heyward, 20, burst into the big leagues as the Braves’ starting right fielder when the season opened and sizzled for six weeks, leading the team in home runs and RBIs into May. He was a coast-to-coast star because of his combination of power and average, his big arm in right field, and his demure makeup. Heyward took nothing for granted with his hot start, and it endeared him to teammates and fans.
On May 14, in a Friday game against Arizona, he slid into third base and jammed the thumb. He has not been the same hitter who streaked through the first six weeks of the season.
In the past 24 games, Heyward is hitting .124 with 33 strikeouts in 99 at bats. He has just one home run.
In his first 46 games, Heyward hit .301 with 10 home runs and 38 RBIs. His slugging percentage was .596. During the slump, his slugging percentage has crashed to .232.
“It will affect hitting,” Heyward said. “I’m going to try to do something to get it better. I’ve seen doctors about it. I’m going to see the doctor again to see if there is anything we can do better.
“This is not an excuse. This is what we have to work with. I don’t have a problem going out and playing every day, but this is for the team. Let’s get it better so I can get back to helping the team.”
The club survived on offense as second baseman Martin Prado blossomed into one of the best hitters in the National League and off-season pickup Troy Glaus, ridiculed in April, broke loose in May. Outfielder Eric Hinske has been a steady contributor all three months of the season.
“We knew in here he was hurting,” Hinske said. “He was trying to do the best he could, but it’s gotten to a point it was hurting him. He needs to get it right.”
Heyward’s upward arc toward a start in right field for the National League in the All-Star Game seems in jeopardy. He’s more concerned about the games in August and September when the Braves could be making a push for their first postseason appearance since 2005.
“It’s June, almost July, we have the second half of the season coming up,” Heyward said. “I would like to be able to contribute and make that big push for the playoffs. To do so it might take some time. I’m going to have to take a day, take two days, see a doctor.”
Heyward entered Saturday’s game in the eighth inning as a pinch-runner for Hinske. He stayed in the game in the ninth, going to right field as Melky Cabrera moved from right to Hinske’s spot in left.