Jason Heyward: Tweaked swing, same mindset, better results

This Heyward homer came Sunday. (AP photo)

This Jason Heyward homer came Sunday. (AP photo by John Bazemore)

Jason Heyward went from being a sure thing at 20 to a source of uncertainty by the time he turned 22, which is the way it can work. Make a great first record and you’re the Next Dylan. Make a lesser second LP and you’re the new Milli Vanilli. Which is why Music Snobs tend to judge an musician by what we like to call the Crucial Third Album.

Through  the first 10 games of a perhaps crucial Year 3, Jason Heyward has hit .375 with two home runs and five RBI’s. And now, for contrarian purposes, we ask: Was a good start really crucial for this player?

Said Fredi Gonzalez, the Braves’ manager: “It’s important for everybody, but more so for him.”

Said Greg Walker, the new hitting coach: “It could have been an issue if he was the kind of guy who panicked.”

There’s the key. Of all the things the Braves liked about Heyward at age 20, outrageous athletic ability was only one. Yeah, he could hit the ball really hard and run really fast, but he also approached the game the way a 10-year pro would. He wasn’t given to irrational exuberance. (Or its evil twin — utter self-doubt.) Talent had gotten him to the majors in a hurry, but temperament would make him a superstar.

In sum, Heyward was the one hot rookie whose numbers absolutely positively wouldn’t crater in Year 2. Lo and behold, they did. He went from .277 to .227, from 72 RBI’s to 42. What caused that crash may never be fully explained, but Heyward offered his version before Monday’s game: “There’s a difference between being healthy and not healthy.”

Heyward hurt his right shoulder in spring training 2011, tried to play through it and wound up compensating for the ache by changing his swing, and not for the better. He also seemed to be one of the many Braves resistant to hitting coach Larry Parrish’s methods, whatever they were. That still shouldn’t have translated to .227 — Jason Heyward should be able to bunt .227 — but something did.

Nine games into the new season, Heyward’s 2011 appears the one-off to end all one-offs.  He started to feel healthy again over the winter. “I got in front of the right people,” he said, and it’s clear he considers Walker and assistant hitting coach Scott Fletcher among them. Of those two, Heyward said: “They are hitting coaches, players’ coaches.”

Gonzalez: “All the credit in the world has to go to Jason — he’s put in the work. But he trusts [Walker and Fletcher]. He’s bought into what they’re doing.”

Heyward didn’t nosedive from .277 to .227 because he stopped trying. His approach didn’t change. He just fell into bad habits and had no one to point the way. The new hitting coaches took pains to gain Heyward’s ear, and that bond is more important than any swing changes — there appear to be some, but they’re subtle — will ever be.

Heyward: “It’s not like I’ve been going 4-for-4. This game is about making adjustments. I’ve been able to make some of those adjustments.”

Wasn’t it hard to go from being the Next Aaron to hitting .227? Didn’t that put even the famed Heyward mindset to the test? Not really. “I know how hard I have to work, how patient and how humble I have to be. There’s no extra pressure.”

Then this: “I just come out here and play the game. I’m not trying to stand out; I’m letting the game play out. You can’t control the hype — that’s for the fans. For me, everything goes back to hard work.”

At 3:50 p.m. Monday, Heyward was on the field with Walker, taking lob-tosses from bullpen catcher Alan Butts and smacking the daylights out of them. This wasn’t even the scheduled round of batting practice — and the game itself wasn’t set to begin for another three hours — but the 22-year-old looked as serious as Mariano Rivera in the ninth inning in October.

“This game is about making adjustments,” Heyward said, and in Year 3 the apt pupil might just have met his Yoda. It would be wrong to say that Walker was hired to tutor Heyward — there are others here in need of instruction — but what coach in his right mind wouldn’t want to coach Jason Heyward?

“He had some bad days in spring training,” Walker said, “but he was back at it the next day. For me, that demeanor holds up.”

Parts of Jason Heyward’s swing needed tweaking. The demeanor was always world-class. When he says he didn’t feel any pressure, you believe him. When you’re as skilled and strong-willed as he is, you’ll never fail for long.

By Mark Bradley

75 comments Add your comment

Tarmar

April 16th, 2012
6:30 pm

Enter your comments hereFirst?

Mark Bradley

April 16th, 2012
6:31 pm

Yes, Tarmar. Kudos.

Birdhair

April 16th, 2012
6:38 pm

Heyward is potential cornerstone player. Hope that mr hat tipper doesnt sub him out a whole lot.

Sonny Clusters

April 16th, 2012
6:39 pm

Tweaks on this team usually put people on the DL. Same with strains, pulls, and aggravations.

The Nature Boy

April 16th, 2012
6:40 pm

Good stuff Mark…you’re in mid-season form…..The Braves will go as far and Heyward and Hanson take them…those 2 guys HAVE TO PRODUCE…….Go Braves!!

JWOOD

April 16th, 2012
6:44 pm

Now that he has put the work in, hopefully he isn’t going to overwork himself. Keep up the practice, but don’t take too much batting practice. I’m sure he has learned his limits, though.

marseilles mutt

April 16th, 2012
6:47 pm

Haven’t heard too much from the “Fire the World” clan in the last day or so, have we?

The thing about last year that stands out most in my mind was that the Braves were even close enough to the playoffs to bomb out, considering injuries and the ‘overall’ talent and payroll level.

Some folksbetter be careful what they wish for….best thing re this team is the locker room chemistry, which makes an excellent case for NOT changing the roster too much in the off-season.

Sonny Clusters

April 16th, 2012
6:48 pm

If, as it has been said, “The knee is the whole basis of who you are [as a player],” and “This game is about making adjustments” – then we have in capsule in recent days the game of baseball as few really understand it. That’s some great journalism and following a video it is especially worthwhile.

VinnyD

April 16th, 2012
6:51 pm

Hopefully Heyward continues and moves up in the lineup quickly. Next year he should be the 3 hitter. If our lineup produces like it should (big if always), we have a great lineup with only 1 hole. We have a tough 1-7.

Braves 4 Eva

April 16th, 2012
6:55 pm

Let the haters begin in 3……..2……..1

George Stein

April 16th, 2012
6:58 pm

If Fredi was left to his druthers, the entire team would try to bunt .227.

extremus

April 16th, 2012
7:09 pm

No more sliding head first now please, Jason!

pj

April 16th, 2012
7:13 pm

My Dog is 2 years old. His name is “Heyward” (for real). Reason was – I’m a big Braves fan – but when I got him, Jason hit a massive Home run and the announcer said “HEYward hits a massive shot to right!” – My dog perked up and stared at the TV. I knew that was his name immediately (and it sounds like “HEY” which a dog responds to). So me and my dog Heyward sit and watch as many games as we can and even do the “Heyward dance” when he comes to the plate. MY best bud can identify Jason as soon as he comes up.
Love his attitude, love his work ethic – please FW – keep him around as long as you can. He will end up a 10 time all star. Besides, if he ends up a Met – I’ll be ticked to have to change my dog’s name.

Go Heyward. Go Braves!

Mark Bradley

April 16th, 2012
7:24 pm

I would describe tonight’s crowd as a non-sellout.

Joe for 3

April 16th, 2012
7:42 pm

“as a non-sellout”

That’s a nice way you putting it.

Mark Bradley

April 16th, 2012
8:00 pm

I’m not sure it should be called a “crowd.”

"Chef" Tim Dix

April 16th, 2012
8:03 pm

Using the new dynamic pricing, this must a be a “Z” game, as in number of dynamic tickets sold…zero.

"Chef" Tim Dix

April 16th, 2012
8:05 pm

Candlelight tables readily available on the Chop House veranda…

Mark Bradley

April 16th, 2012
8:06 pm

“Z” might refer to the enthusiasm in the house as well.

George Stein

April 16th, 2012
8:08 pm

Heyward needs to start working on his bunting.

Mark Bradley

April 16th, 2012
8:10 pm

Heyward is 2-for-2 with a stolen base. It never happens that the guy I write about has a good game.

pj

April 16th, 2012
8:13 pm

Or, Bradley needs to work on his headlines to generate blog interest. Actually nevermind. I woke up this morning and read that we capped off our 5th straight win with a Chipper Homer and then tuned into Sportscenter and couldnt find it covered. Anywhere. ESPN is literally about two things – appealing to the top 5-6 markets and gossiping about controversy. Covering all the games is a bother to them.

"Chef" Tim Dix

April 16th, 2012
8:13 pm

Bravos are 7 of 9 in the stolen base dept. I hear.

They haven’t been 7 of 9 in that dept. since 9 came before 7.

George Stein

April 16th, 2012
8:14 pm

Are you referring to the innovative man in the dugout that bunts in the first inning and bats the best hitter on the team seventh most nights, DGD?

"Chef" Tim Dix

April 16th, 2012
8:15 pm

pj: Other than the Sports Reporters, I avoid Bristol TV at all cost.

Dawg Haus

April 16th, 2012
8:19 pm

I’m very happy for Heyward so far this season. I knew last year was not par for the course for him.

Mark Bradley

April 16th, 2012
8:20 pm

Jason Heyward is too good not to be good, if that makes sense.

Bill

April 16th, 2012
8:25 pm

Thanks Mark another great one…I love J-Hey
and Walkers theory on hitting..looks like we got a good one. Go Braves.

pj

April 16th, 2012
8:25 pm

makes sense Bradley. Kinda like Lebron is too good not to be good in the 4th quarter of a playoff game. Doesnt make a lot of sense

George Stein

April 16th, 2012
8:28 pm

LeBron was pretty darned good in the fourth quarter of that playoff game against Detroit where he scored Cleveland’s last 24 points or something. He was also awfully good against Chicago last year.

Bill

April 16th, 2012
8:31 pm

Wilson got robbed of a homer..back luck wilson.

pj

April 16th, 2012
8:33 pm

I won’t go into too much Stein, because its a braves blog – but… http://espn.go.com/blog/truehoop/miamiheat/post/_/id/8778/the-lebron-james-4th-quarter-experience

Lebron is too good to be this bad in these situations… Go Bravos!

Mark Bradley

April 16th, 2012
8:33 pm

Who’s the only player in MLB to have no hits but three RBI’s?

J. Wilson.

Mark Bradley

April 16th, 2012
8:35 pm

I have to admit I don’t understand why James stunk — or didn’t try — in the NBA finals a year ago.

George Stein

April 16th, 2012
8:35 pm

Fair enough, pj.

Mark Bradley

April 16th, 2012
8:36 pm

Sometimes good strategy comes to a bad end. The Braves walked Wright to get to Ike. Wright was hitting .447 better than Ike. Ike hits a threejack.

That’s baseball.

Joe for 3

April 16th, 2012
8:38 pm

Ike can hit, as long as he is healthy.

Mark Bradley

April 16th, 2012
8:40 pm

And DOB notes that Wright was — and still is — 3 for 20 against Hanson.

Still, I’d have walked him. If Ike beats you, you — all together now — tip your hat.

Mark Bradley

April 16th, 2012
8:41 pm

The Braves have three hits. Heyward has two.

1eyedJack

April 16th, 2012
8:52 pm

Demeanor wise, Jason Heyward reminds me much of Fred McGriff. I’d settle for him having as good a career as the Crime Dog.

1eyedJack

April 16th, 2012
8:53 pm

What is it with the Metropolitans? Do they put us to sleep?

Mark Bradley

April 16th, 2012
8:54 pm

There’s a similarity, 1eyedJack. Although Heyward might be a little more intense.

Bill

April 16th, 2012
8:55 pm

McCann can hit but blocking the ball and dig’em out is not something he’s good at.Ross is twice as good on defence.

Felix

April 16th, 2012
10:01 pm

Jason was just about the entire Braves offense tonight; not that there was much offense to speak of.

…………hate losing to the Mets.

JSS

April 16th, 2012
10:35 pm

Well that was ugly, hey Clusters what happened to the Buckmaster tonight? Is his Mets decoder ring broken?

JSS

April 16th, 2012
10:39 pm

I hope for Heyward’s sake that C.A.L.M. does not wait around to lock him up if he gets it completely together!

[...] Thole had two hits.  Tommy Hanson took the loss for Atlanta, he pitched ok but not well enough.  Jason Heyward led the Braves with a couple of [...]

[...] Thole had two hits.  Tommy Hanson took the loss for Atlanta, he pitched ok but not well enough.  Jason Heyward led the Braves with a couple of [...]

ben

April 17th, 2012
12:00 am

I was an all district player and once I had a coach that ruined my confidence. Mechanics and hitting coaches are overrated. The next year I had a coach who believed in me and suddenly I could hit again. I dont believe that Heyward lost his talent I believe he lost his confidence and I blame the Braves coaches for that.

4th place finish in 2012

April 17th, 2012
12:48 am

10 games to start the season…..after stinking up the place in 2011 and for most of Spring Training….isnt going to make me want to get drunk on the “Jason Heyward has turned the corner” kool-aid.

I will say that he’s off to a promising start. However, as was touched on in the above article…baseball is a sport of making adjustments. You can better believe that MLB pitching his in the process of figuring out how to make adjustments to Heyward’s adjustments.

If Heyward’s adjustments continue to mystify MLB pitching from here on out…along with Heyward’s health problems being a thing of the past…..I’ll be more than happy to admit I was wrong about Heyward and start drinking the kool-aid. However, I need to see much more than a 10 game sample before I take that leap of faith.