Braves rookie standout Jason Heyward was placed on the 15-day disabled list late Monday with a deep bone bruise in the sore left thumb that has plagued him for six weeks.
Outfielder Matt Diaz will be activated to take the roster spot of Heyward, who will wear a cast for six days and, the Braves hope, be ready to play after 15 days. Surgery will not be required.
Diaz played three rehab games in Triple-A recovering from thumb surgery to remove a splinter that had caused an infection.
Heyward’s thumb was bruised at the base of a ligament and the injury was diagnosed after an MRI exam Monday morning. The big right fielder had missed two weekend games after soreness that plagued him for six weeks worsened to the point where he could no longer grip the bat using the thumb on his top hand.
“They’re going to cast it for a week, and then go from there,” manager Bobby Cox said. “But he should be OK, hopefully, in 15 days.
The MRI exam revealed a bruise and strained ligament where it attaches to the bone. It’s possible the soreness could linger until Heyward gets extended rest in the offseason, but the Braves hope that by immobilizing it for six days in a cast, he can get some immediate relief.
“We’re doing the best thing, I believe” Heyward said. “I don’t think they’d ever do anything but that. Right now it’s a good opportunity to go ahead and get it done, get the rest in, get the health and get the strength back in it, and be able to come back the second half.”
Heyward initially injured the thumb when he jammed it into third base sliding head-first on May 14. He continued to play despite lingering pain, which he never used as an excuse for his declining statistics.
In early June, Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton said the thumb was affecting Heyward more than he let on, and preventing him from extending and getting to many pitches he hit hard earlier in the season.
In the past 24 games in which he batted, Heyward hit .172 (17-for-99) with one homer, seven RBIs, 33 strikeouts, a .274 on-base percentage and a .232 slugging percentage (.506 OPS).
In his first 46 games, he hit .301 (47-for-156) with 10 homers, 38 RBIs, 29 walks, 35 strikeouts, and a .421 OBP and .596 slugging percentage (1.017 OPS).
“It’s nothing major because I’ve been on the field for the last two months with it,” Heyward said Sunday. “But it’s something that’s creating a problem as far as being consistent.
“I want to get it taken care of now instead of having to worry about it later.”
Heyward, 20, had the fourth-most National League All-Star votes when the latest fan-voting update came out last week. He had the second-most votes among outfielders.
He said late Monday that he didn’t know how the injury and DL stint would affect his status for the All-Star Game and whether he’d be able to play if elected to start.
If he’s among the top three outfielders in the voting, he’d be the second-youngest player ever elected to start in an All-Star Game, two months older than Ken Griffey Jr.
“I’d show up to accept [because] of the fact I was voted, and show the fans I appreciate it,” he said on Sunday. “So yeah, I’d definitely go.”