Heyward still determined to make impact on Braves’ season

It has been a frustrating season for Jason Heyward but he still has time to make an impact for the Braves. (AP photo)

It has been a frustrating season for Jason Heyward, but he still has time to make an impact for the Braves. (AP photo)

(UPDATED: 2 a.m.)

Last season, Jason Heyward gave us no reason to wonder. He gave us only … wonder.

First at-bat: a three-run homer. First season: voted an All-Star starter. He finished with the second-most homers and RBIs on the Braves’ roster. He was the runner-up in the official National League rookie of the year voting by the media (the players voted him first in their award by Sporting News).

A corner outfielder with skill and power. A native of Atlanta. A product of the organization. Manna from marketing heaven.  Somebody check — is there a lightning bolt burned into his bat?

But there’s something different about Heyward this year, and it’s the reason the Braves are looking for offensive help in the trade market. Make no mistake: Notwithstanding Chipper Jones’ extended string of ailments, Dan Uggla’s early struggles, and anything else that you might want to consider, the biggest reason the Braves are looking for another bat is Heyward’s second-year struggles.

Whether Uggla bounced back or not – and a 17-game hitting streak certainly suggests he has found his swing – he was going to start at second base. The team needs more production in the outfield. The talk of trading for Carlos Beltran, Hunter Pence or the like is about making up for some of the punch that has been lost by the young right fielder.

We should start with this: There is zero reason to question Heyward’s potential greatness. Those who suggest Heyward is hopelessly flawed and should be traded by the Braves — it’s astounding how many of those emails I’ve received — are being premature, nonsensical, shortsighted, knee-jerk and just plain dumb. They are the ramblings of frustrated fantasy-league players.

Heyward came through in the clutch Tuesday night against Pittsburgh, stroking a two-out, two-run single in the third inning to tie the game 3-3. His first three at-bats also included a walk and an infield single. (He finished the night going 2-for-7, but maybe he just dozed off like almost everybody else in the Braves’ 19-inning, 4-3 win over the Pirates.)

“We forget he’s 21 years old,” Brian McCann said earlier of Heyward. “The bottom line is, when you’re injured and you go on the [disabled list] and you change your mechanics, it’s going to take time to find your swing again. But he’ll be fine.”

It is taking Heyward more time than he would like. This is a first for him. He has dealt with injuries before – oblique, back, groin, foot. But nothing has messed with the mechanics of his swing like the shoulder injury he had this season, not even the thumb problems of last year.

Heyward is hitting only .222. Three weeks ago, he went 3-for-4 with a home run and a double in the series finale against Colorado, and the thought occurred that it might be a turning point. But in the next 12 games, he went 7-for-44 (.159). These numbers are anemic relative to his rookie season: .277, 18 homers, 72 RBIs, .306 with runners in scoring position.

Heyward says his shoulder is fine. He attributes the problems to “bad habits” he got into when he hurt the shoulder and before he went on the disabled list for 3½ weeks in late May.

The upside to all of this is that he still has more than two months, plus a potential postseason, to make an impact. The question is to what extent the Braves are rolling the dice on a player who entered Tuesday hitting .182 since the All-Star break and for the season is at .231 with runners in scoring position and .224 with men on.

He put it an unusual way, saying, “You have to enjoy a struggle. I’m re-learning what I need to do to be successful at this level.

Physically, he says he needs to get his hands back into his swing, stop letting his arms do all the work. But the process has been frustrating.

“It’s a mental thing,” he said. “If you don’t have a feel and you can’t trust your approach or your abilities or whatever separates you from the next person, it makes it difficult. You can’t be anywhere near as productive as you want to be or the team needs you to be.”

Five days before the trade deadline, Heyward realized earlier Tuesday he wasn’t where the Braves need him to be. It certainly doesn’t make last season an aberration. It just makes us wonder about the rest of this one.

By Jeff Schultz

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC; friend me at Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

1,162 comments Add your comment

Dylan

July 26th, 2011
7:03 pm

Gomes traded to NATS!!! that was a suprise

Reid Adair

July 26th, 2011
7:07 pm

Great post, Jeff. I think Jason Heyward will be fine.

Starsky

July 26th, 2011
7:07 pm

Well you tried, Jeff. It looks like DOB’s fans are pretty loyal, though.

JacketFan

July 26th, 2011
7:08 pm

Don Green

July 26th, 2011
7:09 pm

I bet the Nationals flip Gomes to someone else before the trade deadline.

Peter

July 26th, 2011
7:10 pm

He’ll be fine, but for now – Beltran. Currently available at a discount.

archie

July 26th, 2011
7:11 pm

It’s affected his outfield play too. 1 assist, 6 errors.

cattle dawg

July 26th, 2011
7:12 pm

Trade for upton and give up a prospect. Hows the weather at the game?

Jeff Schultz

July 26th, 2011
7:13 pm

Dylan — I love the Gomes to Nats trade, just because it means he won’t be coming here!

Jeff Schultz

July 26th, 2011
7:13 pm

Thanks, Reid.

Jeff Schultz

July 26th, 2011
7:14 pm

Starsky — You lost me.

MSD

July 26th, 2011
7:14 pm

most important with Beltran is NOT going to the Phillies or Giants.

Ryan K

July 26th, 2011
7:14 pm

Every game I watch Heyward try to pull an inside pitch and fly out, or just plain ground out weakly I lose some hope for him. Though he’s only 22 and can still turn it around. With this lineup though we need some sort of utility pick up or someone who can at least play the corner outfield.

Josh B

July 26th, 2011
7:15 pm

Thankfully Gomes is off the market (hopefully at least)

Larry

July 26th, 2011
7:16 pm

I think you’re wrong, Jeff!

Heyward does in fact have a flawed swing as Bobby Valentine said two nights ago and he’s done nothing to correct this. We are not looking at the next great star; we are looking at the next Tony Torasco or Mike Kelly–”the next Barry Bonds,” remember?

And if the Braves thought otherwise they wouldn’t be shopping for someone to either replace or platoon with this free swinging hack!

Jeff Schultz

July 26th, 2011
7:17 pm

By the way — Hello folks. It’s hot. And humid. 22 years and I’m still not used to this. Do you ever get used to this?

Fredi Gonzalez

July 26th, 2011
7:17 pm

Jeff – I would like to tip my cap to you for a helluva article. If I can tear Nate away from reading his “CenterFielding For Dummies” book, I’ll ask him to tip his cap to you as well. If he doesn’t throw to the right base tonight I’ll make him eat that cap.

Good job and appreciate you tackling sensitive topics. Jason has the talent, no question. Now, it’s the maturing process, learning, growing, and understanding how to contribute positively while grinding it out.

Jeff Schultz

July 26th, 2011
7:19 pm

Well, he clocked that one . . .

bravos007

July 26th, 2011
7:20 pm

good post at least someone in Atlanta can be honest about Heyward

bravos007

July 26th, 2011
7:21 pm

not to beat up on heyward even more but what the heck was he doing in the outfield? he played that ball very poorly of the wall.

mr. D

July 26th, 2011
7:21 pm

what is wrong with the braves pitching………wow…behind again, with a patchwork offense who will do good to score…..?????

Braves One

July 26th, 2011
7:22 pm

Thanks Jeff for bringing to light what many want to say about Jason Heyward’s issues. I commend managers, coaches and players sicking up for their “guy” and putting a good light on things, but the cold hard facts are often what is needed.

Braves Fan

July 26th, 2011
7:22 pm

It sure seems like another Jeff Francouer type of phenom to me. I am losing patience with his performance. More than that, I think he needs to take some tough pills and learn to play with pain like Chipper said about a month ago. So far, I’d say if you could get a bunch of young, promising prospects, of which one could pan out, I’d go for it.

Jeff Schultz

July 26th, 2011
7:22 pm

Stating the obvious: Hanson being hit hard here. Not going to last long at this stage.

Ryan

July 26th, 2011
7:23 pm

Heyward played that ball off the wall poorly. Our pitching is wearing down because of so many high stress innings due to the fact that our pitchers are aware of how bad our offense is.

Jeff Schultz

July 26th, 2011
7:23 pm

Larry — Bobby Valentine is an idiot. And, as Forrest Gump would say, that’s all I’ve got to say about that.

cattle dawg

July 26th, 2011
7:24 pm

Jeff, Im 2 hours south of Hotlanta and im use to the weather, but my wife from north ga cant get used to the heat or the nats. The insects not the baseball team.

bravos007

July 26th, 2011
7:24 pm

what is WRONG with our first inning pitching?! i really don’t get it. the offense is bad enough without having to dig out of a hole every single night.

Jeff Schultz

July 26th, 2011
7:24 pm

Fredi Gonzalez — Hey, are you posting comments from the dugout!?! … (Thanks.)

mr. D

July 26th, 2011
7:24 pm

they have got to have a change to kickstart them again. injuries have struck and there is no cure…lol

G

July 26th, 2011
7:25 pm

This is what I was afraid of this season. The Braves have no shutdown starting pitcher, Jurgens is not that… Chipper can’t stay healthy and it is selfish for him to continue to take up a roster spot to play 100 games. No clutch hitting and a manager who says he is fine with a shortstop who can’t hit but can play defense. what a defeatist attitude.

PMC

July 26th, 2011
7:25 pm

the thing is, I’m not forgetting he’s 21. He’s a professional ball player. He gets paid to play and he’s not performing to a level well enough for the Braves to win period. Same as the rest of the outfielders on the team save maybe Prado.

It’s not his fault he’s 21. It’s Brave’s management’s fault they are trusting a 21 year old to win games for them. It’s Brave’s management’s fault that this outfield is terrible and has been terrible.

They can certainly upgrade Center and Right this year. They could try and make a run at the postseason and try to win a championship, but they aren’t going to do that. They made that clear with the roster they went with this season to begin with.

Decent roster. If Uggla isn’t absent for half the season and Heyward was better they MIGHT have a shot with all this pitching. It hasn’t worked out again but it was a huge gamble anyway. There is no salary cap. They don’t get credit for taking risks on young players. They get credit for winning.

It’s not a bad team, but the Phillies are A LOT better.

Jeff Schultz

July 26th, 2011
7:26 pm

Cattle dawg — I thought last summer was worst I had ever experience here. This one just as bad, especially since it started too early. … Meanwhile, back to the ball game . . .

Starsky

July 26th, 2011
7:26 pm

I was referring to the fact nobody seemed to be participating in your live blog. But looks like thats been ironed out.

cattle dawg

July 26th, 2011
7:26 pm

Since the braves are giving up so many early runs I think Freddi should start Kimbrel every night an then follow with venters…. Sarcasm

Dennis Reynolds

July 26th, 2011
7:27 pm

Great AB by Nasty Nate. Looks like we don’t need to make any moves..

Ryan

July 26th, 2011
7:28 pm

Good base running by Nate

Jeff Schultz

July 26th, 2011
7:28 pm

Looks like McLouth has been watching Jordan Schafer from the dugout.

braves are pretenders!!

July 26th, 2011
7:28 pm

Heyward isn’t the problem with this team. It’s the incompetent manager. Hope he is watching the Pirates in the first inning, fundamental baseball, advance the runner, get a hit, and what happens, you actually score. The Pirates are such a better coached team than this bunch of clowns called the Braves. Add to that the fact that the Braves pitching is showing what it is really made of, a bunch of pretenders that had a good couple of starts in the first half of the season. Speaking of coaching, i wonder if the pathetic pitching coach that should have been fired for making a fool out of himself and the organization, ever thought of teaching Hanson how to hold a runner on, and how to stop pausing in his delivery. Hanson has now had 3 consecutive starts since the break without a quality start, the nightmare called Liberty media continues. Cheapass owners, hire incompetent,cheapass manager=pretenders.

Dennis Reynolds

July 26th, 2011
7:29 pm

Been lobbying for Nate to bat leadoff for a while now. Maybe this managing thing isn’t all that hard after all.

If Fredi can do it never playing past AA, I believe I could.

Ryan

July 26th, 2011
7:29 pm

G

July 26th, 2011
7:30 pm

Way to get that runner in Prado!!

Matt

July 26th, 2011
7:30 pm

Jeff: You’re Frank. What moves do you make?

tdc

July 26th, 2011
7:30 pm

Heyward was to good last year because now everybody expects the kid to be superman. He will be fine just needs to relax and play ball.

Ryan

July 26th, 2011
7:30 pm

That was meant for Pretenders not Dennis

Dennis Reynolds

July 26th, 2011
7:30 pm

Yeah, Jeff. Watching him get on base in less than 30% of his ABs?

Don’t tell me your a Schafer lover too are you?

Jeff Schultz

July 26th, 2011
7:30 pm

Starsky — Oh. Well I posted pretty late and the digital folks in office needed a little while to display it online.

bravos007

July 26th, 2011
7:30 pm

WHAT THE MO FO is going on with prado and mccann?! they are swinging very oddly lately.

Steve

July 26th, 2011
7:31 pm

Jeff, I was in Cincinnati this weekend and went to the game Saturday afternoon. Literally the hottest I have ever been. Lasted an inning and a half in my seat, in the sun, and we went to the “standing room only” area in the shade. Quite a waste of $100!

G

July 26th, 2011
7:31 pm

Is there any way to find out what team has the most triples hit against them in a season, the Braves have to be up there.