VIERA, Fla. – Space Coast Stadium has been open for 18 years and, near as anyone can tell, only one homer’s been hit where Jason Heyward put one Thursday.
In the fifth inning of a 6-3 loss to the Washington Nationals, the Braves outfielder hit a monster home run to straightaway center that sailed over the 35-foot green wall that serves as the “batter’s eye” backdrop. It’s 404 feet to the base of the wall.
“I think he just missed it,” cracked Nationals pitcher Edwin Jackson, who threw the fastball that Heyward demolished.
“I got that one pretty good,” said Heyward, who homered for the second consecutive game and fourth time this spring. “I knew I got it great. He throws pretty hard. I put a good swing on a pitch, stayed through the middle, didn’t come off it.”
Former Marlin Cliff Floyd hit the only other home run that longtime Space Coast Stadium denizens and reporters could recall clearing the center-field wall during a game.
“That’s a bomb,” said Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, who was a third-base coach for the Marlins when Floyd hit cleared the wall.
Heyward is only hitting .214 for the spring, but the work he put in to retool his swing during the winter and early in spring training has begun to pay dividends in the past two weeks in the form of line drives and more quality at-bats in which he’s worked counts.
His homer to center field came a day after the left-handed slugger hit one out to left-center.
“That’s what we’ve been working on – let the pitch dictate where you hit the ball, don’t try and hit it to any spot,” Heyward said. “Just keep it in your mind to work it through the middle, and if you have to change your location, so be it.”
Venters strong in return
Jonny Venters said his arm “couldn’t have felt better” when he retired all three batters on two groundouts and a flyout in the eighth inning Thursday in his first appearance since March 18.
The left-hander had been sidelined by soreness in the upper part of his pitching arm near the shoulder.
“I felt really good,” said Venters, who fell behind in the count 3-and-0 against two hitters. “My timing wasn’t what I want it to be, but I missed 10 days. I felt really good though. Best it’s felt in a while. I couldn’t ask for it to be any better. Now I’ve just got to work on kind of getting everything else locked in.
“Missing 10 days kind of hurt me in preparation. But I’m going to get in two more games and I think that’ll be plenty.”
Hudson to start Monday
Veteran Tim Hudson will start and pitch two innings Monday against the Mets in the Braves’ Grapefruit League finale, his first game action since Nov. 28 lumbar spine-fusion surger. He’ll open the season on the 15-day disabled list and the Braves hope to have him back in the rotation in the last week of April.
Monday was to have been Brandon Beachy’s regular day to pitch, so he’ll follow Hudson and pitch about six innings.