Heyward’s big day: Brave hits a homer and takes one away

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Jason Heyward began Wednesday batting .190 with a .250 on-base percentage for the spring, but by the end of the day there was plenty of reason for the Braves and their right fielder to feel good about the direction he seemed headed.

He’s had games recently that didn’t look as good in the boxscore as on the field, but Wednesday he got results.

Heyward had two hits including a tying two-run homer in the ninth inning, and prevented three runs with a home run-saving catch in the third inning and a running catch in shallow center for the last out of the Braves’ 5-5, 10-inning tie with the New York Yankees.

““He did everything,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “He showed us what he can do, he really did. He gave us a little appetizer hopefully for the season … because he’s a big part of our offense.”

Someone asked if Heyward wished Wednesday’s game had come in the regular season, which begins next week.

“At this point for me it kind of feels like the regular season,” he said. “We’re down to the last six [spring training] games now. You want to get ready to go and you want to have those kind of at-bats and have those kind of defensive plays already in your mind and having already physically made them.

“I wish it was the regular season, but it kind of feels like it anyway.”

After following up his terrific rookie season in 2010 with a disappointing and injury-marred second season, the Heyward project began in December when he went to work breaking down his swing and getting back to basics with his personal hitting coach.

It moved to the next stage in January when he went to work in the Turner Field batting cages with the new Braves hitting coaches, Greg Walker and assistant Scott Fletcher, along with regular appearances from veteran third baseman Chipper Jones.

Swing adjustments were made, balance was regained, mental reminders were driven home – stay inside the ball, wait on the pitch, use the whole field – and Heyward set out to apply them against live pitching when spring training began.

Good results were frequently absent, as the numbers indicate. But Heyward’s batting practice sessions were much better than a year ago, and in games the frequency of good at-bats began to increase steadily, even if the OBP didn’t.

“He’s been working so hard, and if you follow him every day and not [focus on] the boxscores you see it,” Gonzalez said. “You see the aggressiveness that he’s showing at the plate. The good at-bats are getting closer and closer. They’re bunching up. From Day 1 in spring training you can see it. His attitude’s been terrific.”

In the past two weeks the Braves and Heyward have been pleased by his performances, including a game Tuesday against the New York Mets in which he had five good plate appearances despite only one hit. He worked counts, hit balls hard, was a tough out — and reacted to pitches instead of thinking so much about the process.

“I would say it’s [felt] natural for about two weeks straight consistently,” he said before Wednesday’s game. “Because there were times [before] where I would go up there and react, and then other times during the game where I was thinking again. Now it’s, we’re going to go up there and relax. We’re not thinking too much, we’re going to relax, see pitches. It’s all about the timing. Then you can work from there to set up everything else.

“It’s been good. The last two weeks have been an improvement.”

Then came Wednesday. He had a single off starter Hiroki Kuroda and hit an opposite-field homer to left-center with one out in the ninth off right-hander George Kontos, Heyward’s third homer of the spring.

But the play of the day wasn’t his homer or  Freddie Freeman’s fifth homer in three games. It was Heyward racing back and scaling the eight-foot right-field wall, the 6-foot-5 outfielder reaching over to bring back Raul Ibanez’s would-be two-run homer to prevent a tough third inning from spiraling on Braves starter Brandon Beachy.

“My first instinct was, there’s a home run,” Beachy said. “I just look at Jason to see if he’s even going to turn around, and then instantly I just knew he was going to catch the ball. You could just tell. He had it. Man, he made that catch look easy. He made it look like a four-foot picket fence.”

Pretty big wall to go up and over, a reporter said to Beachy.

The pitcher smiled and said, “Pretty big man.”

Heyward moved over to center in the ninth inning. With runners at second and third and two out in the 10th, Gustava Molina hit a sinking liner to center. It looked like trouble for the Braves, with the runners going on two outs. But Heyward bounded in to make the game-ending catch.

“We thought for sure it was going to drop in and score two runs,” Gonzalez said. “Heyward got a great read and came in and got it.”

46 comments Add your comment

Braveslog

March 28th, 2012
6:20 pm

Heyward killed it out there today, which is good to see after a relatively week spring statistically. He also made a big grab out in center, which potentially saved the game for us. He’s looked good on some swings, but his strikeout rate is still really high. What can we expect from Heyward in 2012? I talk about it a bit more here:
http://braveslog.wordpress.com/2012/03/28/what-can-we-expect-from-jason-heyward-in-2012/

Tim

March 28th, 2012
6:23 pm

Tim

March 28th, 2012
6:25 pm

Well dang. Not first this time. But what a great day today for Heyward. Seeing him hit the ball for power to left-center field is a huge step forward.

Blue Ghoul

March 28th, 2012
6:26 pm

Honestly, Braves have rushed Heyward to MLB team. He would be better suited at AAA (last year too). I mean, George Kontos won’t be on the Yankees MLB team.

dogsbrekky

March 28th, 2012
6:26 pm

JHey will play another day so great anyway

longtimefan

March 28th, 2012
6:39 pm

Just like the real baseball experts have been saying-Heyward is a plus fielder and his bat is heating up. It looks like a lot of you Heyward haters are going to be eating a lot of crow this season. Will you be man enough to come on the blog and say “I was wrong, I really don’t know as much about player evaluation as the scouts” ?

Nerdbucket Moylan

March 28th, 2012
6:42 pm

Half tip hat today?

Blue Ghoul

March 28th, 2012
6:44 pm

I was here last year when he hit .220 and got benched for Constanza.

Puma

March 28th, 2012
6:44 pm

Jeez Ghoul, let a guy have a good day. Like it or not, Jason is going to be the difference between a good team and a playoff or division winner. If he goes off this year, we can beat the Phils assuming everyone else plays to their norms.

Amber

March 28th, 2012
6:52 pm

Encouraging to see Heyward have such a great day. That catch was something!

bvillebaron

March 28th, 2012
6:53 pm

Blue Ghoul:

Always can rely on you and the other negative nellies to continue to rip somone even after a good day. I will give everyone 10-1 odds that if Kontos struck Heyward out in that situation, you would be the first poster on here to claim that this proves he stinks. You guys are priceless, a/k/a clueless, totally clueless.

George Stein

March 28th, 2012
6:55 pm

He was one of the best players on the team two years ago, Blue Ghoul.

New mechanics are great, but Fredi needs to cool it with the aggressiveness talk and encourage patience in lieu of aggressiveness.

TJ

March 28th, 2012
6:56 pm

It’s about time he’s showing flashes of his former self and his true potential.

BC

March 28th, 2012
7:05 pm

This guy is a athlete. He was trying to play through injuries last year, and never was really balanced. You just have to believe, if he has a healthy season, that a monster-pro ball player will emerge.

Accurate Article

March 28th, 2012
7:12 pm

Puma

March 28th, 2012
7:15 pm

Agreed George Stein – it seems like as soon as Bobby was trying to tell Heyward to be more aggressive at the plate his rookie year, that was the beginning of the end. I still don’t understand why you would ever tell a rookie that.

George Stein

March 28th, 2012
7:30 pm

It seems to me that the weakest part of a pitching staff is the middle relief, and Fredi reduces the likelihood of getting to those guys in the fifth or sixth inning by preaching aggressiveness.

If someone had data that Heyward was not swinging at pitches in the zone that he could drive, then I’d be more open to the idea. But to this date, I’ve not seen that.

Ye Ole King

March 28th, 2012
7:36 pm

Here ye here ye, thoust hast watcheth thy Braves a fortnight. Thy Braves shalt hit thoust balls and run thy bases. Behold and lo behold a Knight shall appear from thy night and taketh thy balls and pitcheth them at thy plate. Ye use thy bat to smite thy ball over thy fence. Ye hi-fiveth thy brethren and joust thy foes…

Ye Ole King

March 28th, 2012
7:36 pm

Here ye here ye, thoust hast watcheth thy Braves a fortnight. Thy Braves shalt hit thoust balls and run thy bases. Behold and lo behold a Knight shall appear from thy night and taketh thy balls and pitcheth them at thy plate. Ye use thy bat to smite thy ball over thy fence. Ye hi-fiveth thy brethren and joust thy foes…

Mister Frisky

March 28th, 2012
7:48 pm

Like what I saw today.That’s all.

cowdogit

March 28th, 2012
7:50 pm

Jason will hit the pitchers that don’t have good enough control to pitch to his no hit zone. He look’s to have the same swing he had last year. I wish him the best but I believe the top pitcher’s know where his hole in the bat area is located.

reckingball

March 28th, 2012
8:04 pm

I think that the top pitchers know where most of the hitter’s holes are in their swings, that is probably what makes them, the top pitchers.
But, that is just my opinion.
Go Braves!

Orange Brave f/k/a Billy Jack's BBQ

March 28th, 2012
8:05 pm

there is a hole in my stomach. need to find some Q. Maybe One Star Ranch here in Buckhead tonight.

anyone heard how Peter Moylan is doing with his recovery?

Abnerish

March 28th, 2012
9:58 pm

Watching Heyward’s HR AB today, as he kept fouling off he outside pitches, I kept saying to myself “if he’d only keep those shoulders in and drive the ball to the opposite field. That HR swing was EXACTLY what he needs to do. If he can start hitting the ball to the opposite field like that, he’s gonna have a great 3rd season.

Richard

March 28th, 2012
11:35 pm

You tell a rookie to be aggressive when he is so patient that he takes a fastball down the middle every at bat like he was doing his rookie season. Seriously, I wonder if some of you even bother to watch the Braves before you complain.

Paul

March 28th, 2012
11:54 pm

DOB–Heyward’s catch in the ninth wasn’t a diving catch, it was a catch made running in. Good play, but not spectacular.

barves

March 29th, 2012
12:11 am

The blog comments get cut in half when the braves win a spring training game…

the Braves are trending in an upward trajectory going into the season but I just hope we have less extra innings this year. We’ve had enough ties in spring that it’s spooking me a little bit.

I like free baseball, but all those extra innings took their toll last year. hurt us down the stretch as much as anything else.

STH

March 29th, 2012
12:37 am

Baron- you couldn’t find your ass with a funnel. I don’t need odds. Search for a clue. It’s painfully obvious you haven’t found it.

Steve

March 29th, 2012
5:53 am

I was at the game in PSL Tuesday against the Mets. I told my buddy who was with me after a couple of those Heyward at-bats that those are lots better than last year. Huge improvement! Several of the pitches he would have swung at last year and looked silly doing it ~~ he let go by him. I liked what I saw, for sure! Go Braves!!

bravesnelly

March 29th, 2012
7:32 am

this is NOT a negative nelly posting. It is a nelly who is proud of Hayward. Only concern:
will he be consistent. Let us hope so. We need a second big bat…….thank God for
Freddi Freeman!

bravesgrl4life

March 29th, 2012
8:22 am

Can’t wait to see the boys live and in action tomorrow night sitting in the Dark Star stands :)

alex

March 29th, 2012
8:55 am

@reckingball, knowing is one thing ,able to act effectively with that knowledge is another. The latter provides the foundation for greatness. But what do I know, I KNEW atlanta is a crappy city, yet I returned……

PMC

March 29th, 2012
9:00 am

OK guys. Lets get out there and stay HEALTHY for 6 games.

BradB

March 29th, 2012
9:42 am

Heyward was a complete bum last year and until he is hitting over .280 at the all-star break, he is still a bum in my mind

pat

March 29th, 2012
9:49 am

Well, things appear to be looking up! I am happy about that. Still worried about that offense. If they are taking the “Offense will come” approach, I may go nuts.We’re still relying on HR’s to much.. We have got to change that.

BradB

March 29th, 2012
9:53 am

Oh and another thing. The whole team stinks and is full of bums. Can’t understand why so many people here are blind to a team that will finish last in the division. No manager, no hitters and overrated pitching.

Ted M

March 29th, 2012
10:24 am

I hope he is back, but I need to see at least a 4 game hot streak to be convinced.

BravesFanInVirginiaBeach

March 29th, 2012
10:38 am

Heyward is really doing a lot better this spring than he did last season. Let’s look at the positives and stop looking at the negatives!

BravesFanInVirginiaBeach

March 29th, 2012
10:39 am

BradB….are you even a Braves fan?

David O'Brien

March 29th, 2012
10:41 am

Braves sent reliever Jairo Asencio to the Indians for cash. He was out of options, had to make team or would have been claimed on waivers. Had some rough outings this spring including his most recent one Tuesday at Port St. Lucie.

Reality

March 29th, 2012
11:06 am

was it hit off a major league pitcher?

Hmm.

Bulldawgman49

March 29th, 2012
11:47 am

Looks like the Braves are getting hot before the start of the season . Heyward has to give this team
at least 30 homers and 85 RBI If his feilding keeps up then the Braves are looking good for 2012 .

Jax Falcon/Dog Fan

March 29th, 2012
12:18 pm

I really hope we have an answer to Chipper’s stand-in at third base. It is not as easy as many people seem to think for a player to bounce back and forth between the infield and the outfield, especially at the major league level. Prado is most productive (and valuable) at third base, period. That left field position is a thorn that needs to be removed.

KK

March 29th, 2012
1:31 pm

Bring back KK

Mark's for the Braves

March 29th, 2012
1:37 pm

I think J Hey is the key to our season. If he doesn’t hit, we’re in trouble with a rookie SS. We can’t have two weak links in our lineup!

Disgusted

March 29th, 2012
2:18 pm

See, even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while.

Add your comment