Granted, it’s not a bad day for Jason Heyward when he walks into the Braves clubhouse and sees his name penciled into the second hole in the lineup for the first time this season. It’s more confirmation of the redemptive start he’s off to after a subpar 2011.
But it wasn’t that long ago when Heyward was watching Jose Constanza start some games ahead of him in right field last August. Between his struggles and a shoulder injury, Heyward started only 128 games last season.
That’s why it wasn’t that strange to hear Heyward say when asked about hitting second on Tuesday afternoon: “To be honest with you, it’s nice to be in the lineup. I feel healthy and that’s a beautiful thing.”
Manager Fredi Gonzalez gave Martin Prado his first day off of the year Tuesday, prompting Heyward’s move up to second. The Braves are in the middle of a 13-game stretch, which is why Gonzalez gave Freddie Freeman Monday off and plans to give Brian McCann the series finale off against the Mets Wednesday, in a 12:10 p.m. start.
It’s not lost on Gonzalez that during Heyward’s standout rookie season, he did some of his best producing in the No. 2 hole, with nine home runs and 39 home runs, while hitting .281.
Heyward, who had batted sixth four times this season and seventh five times, was also a perfect 3-for-3 in stolen bases this season, entering Tuesday.
“His first year here, that’s where he was most successful, hitting (No.) 2,” Gonzalez said. “But for me he could hit in the middle of the lineup. He could hit No. 2, 3, 4, 5.”
Heyward was hitting .375 (12-for-32) with two home runs and five RBIs through the first 10 games of the season. He was also hitting .333 (5-for-15) against lefties, which is why Gonzalez didn’t mind starting him up there Tuesday against the Mets’ Johan Santana.
Heyward said last year was an exception – hitting .192 against lefties – that he typically hit them well in the minor leagues too.
“That’s me,” Heyward said. “There’s where I feel like I should be. I’m staying more simple against lefties. That helps me out as a hitter, to take that same approach into righties, staying up the middle.”