BOSTON – The Braves’ best hitter in June bats seventh most of the time, and manager Fredi Gonzalez has no imminent plans to move Jason Heyward higher in the order.
“He’s been fine [where he is], and you kind of want to split up the left-handers,” Gonzalez said before Friday’s series opener against the Boston Red Sox. “But he’s done fine there. Hitting sixth, seventh, fifth the other day against a right-hander.”
Heyward hit .351 with 10 extra-base hits (four home runs) and a 1.067 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 16 June games before Friday, with 11 strikeouts in 57 at-bats. In May he hit .200 with nine extra-base hits, a .704 OPS and 30 strikeouts in 95 at-bats.
“It’s seeing pitches, seeing enough pitches,” Heyward said of his increased production. “This is my first season playing through May and June [healthy], knock on wood. I just try and get better every night, keep making adjustments that you have to make.”
After hitting two home runs in Wednesday’s 10-5 win against the Yankees, Heyward was 10-for-25 (.400) with six extra-base hits during a seven-game hitting streak entering the Red Sox series.
“When he’s hitting seventh, that means your lineup is going pretty good,” Gonzalez said, adding that Heyward has never voiced any displeasure or concern over his position in the batting order.
The left-handed hitter has had hot and cold stretches this season and was batting .262 overall with 10 homers, 34 RBIs, a .340 on-base percentage and a .480 slugging percentage. He’s hit mostly sixth or seventh this season, with those two spots accounting for 176 of his 229 at-bats before Friday. He also had 38 at-bats in the fifth spot, eight at No. 3, four at No. 2, and three in the ninth spot.
Heyward had far better statistics batting sixth than in other positions this season, including a .337 average (28-for-83) with 12 extra-base hits (six home runs) and 1.041 OPS.
Batting seventh, he was hitting .226 (21-for-93) with eight extra-base hits and a .727 OPS before Friday, when he was penciled in the seventh spot against Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester. Heyward is 8-for-38 (.211) in the No. 5 spot and his sparse at-bats in the other spots including 1-for-8 at No. 3, 1-for-4 at No. 2, and 1-for-3 in the ninth position.
He homered off left-handed reliever Boone Logan on Wednesday, which the Braves hope was a sign of things to come. So far this season, Heyward has struggled against lefties, batting .207 (18-for-87) with three homers, 28 strikeouts and a .614 OPS. Against righties, he had a .296 average with seven homers, a robust .943 OPS and 33 strikeouts in 142 at-bats.
Gonzalez said he likes the aggressiveness Heyward has shown, along with his work ethic and willingness to make changes after a difficult second major league season in 2011.
“The biggest thing I’ve seen from last year to this year is, he gets in these 3-and-1 counts and 2-and-0 counts, he’s looking to let it go [swing away],” Gonzalez said. “.I’m thrilled and happy to see him play the way he’s played. The only time he’s out of the lineup is when we give him a day off, when we face a tough left-hander or something we give him a breather. Other than that, he’s been in there.”