(Updated: 10:15 p.m.)
Jason Heyward just completed a week in which he hit .522 with three homers, three doubles, nine runs, five RBIs, 26 total bases, four multi-hit games and a slugging percentage of 1.130, which sounds good even to all of those people who don’t really know what a slugging percentage is.
Do you realize that if Heyward continues at this pace, he would break, like, probably every record in baseball history, even those set by mutant chemical creations?
I bring this up because from the moment Heyward announced his arrival with the Braves and the major leagues two years ago with a first at-bat homer that traveled about 800 feet – it’s like the fish that got away: it just keeps getting bigger – expectations have been cartoon-like. People expected so much so soon. Then, predictably when Heyward struggled, was injured, then struggled some more, many started to cast him as the next Jeff Francoeur (post-Sports Illustrated version).
Whatever happened to just taking a breath?
“Sometimes when there’s labels and expectations, it’s human nature — we jump on things a little too quick,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said Tuesday. “We forget he’s a 22-year-old kid. We want to anoint somebody: ‘This is a guy who’s going to be the next Hank Aaron. The next Mickey Mantle.’ We have to take our time.”
This should please both realists and jacked-up-on-Red-Bull Fantasy League players: Jason Heyward is really good again.
He was just named the National League’s player of the week. He went 2-for-4 with an RBI against Arizona in Tuesday night’s 8-1 win over Arizona, raising his average to .282. He looks so confident and mechanically sound in the batter’s box that Gonzalez batted him second in the order for only the second time this season. (Heyward has hit sixth or seventh most of the season.)
Gonzalez even showed Heyward three different lineups before the game and asked him which one he liked best.
“I said, ‘Whichever one I’m in,’” Heyward said, smiling. (He was in all of them.)
Heyward has raised his average 51 points from .231 on May 30. His 11 home runs are tied with Dan Uggla for the team lead. He is third in runs batted in (36), third in total bases and second in stolen bases (10).
This is the Jason Heyward you expected, right?
This doesn’t mean he’s not going to slump the rest of the season. He will. Everybody does. But it should momentarily mute the critics who were convinced he was some overhyped prospect bound for a crash.
Heyward will tell you he has been healthy, which has allowed him to accumulate at-bats and make adjustments. Even when the batting average was down, he felt good.
“I’d get one hit, maybe a big knock in a game and I’d tell myself, ‘Just stay there. It’s gonna happen. Just keep pushing. More at-bats and it’s gonna get better,’” he said. “I just had to keep that mindset: Don’t get too frustrated, don’t get impatient.
“It’s taking an 0-fer and making it into a positive.”
This means everything for the Braves. The starting pitching remains a bit of a mystery. Chipper Jones’ health is going to be an issue all season. But if Heyward can be productive, it changes the game. He showed that last week in New York and Boston. Heyward gives them something they didn’t have enough last season, certainly not down the stretch: a real problem for opposing pitchers.
Heyward said he has focused on “just having fun.” He says he has done a pretty good job shutting out the criticism. But Jones is pretty sure the ride has been tougher than Heyward has let on.
“He’d never say it but you can’t escape it,” he said. “As much as he tries to hide his frustrations with his offensive output and his struggles, you can’t get away from it. You’re going home at night saying, ‘Can I play this game any more? Am I in over my head? What’s going on? Why am I not producing.’ As a player and a coach, you just have to harp on it with him, ‘You’ve got the world by the tail if you just get your mechanics back.’ It’s taken him a while to get it, but I dare say I think he’s got it.”
Imagine the possibilities.
Just don’t go crazy.
By Jeff Schultz