Jason Heyward started today’s Braves game on the road against the Cubs, his first action in a live game since being hit in the jaw with a Jonathan Niese fastball on August 21. The 4-6 week timetable given for Heyward’s return ended up being 30 days, and the Braves are glad to have one of their leaders back, as they try to clinch the NL East and prepare for postseason play.
Heyward rejoined the lineup in the leadoff spot, a spot where he flourished after being moved there on July 27. As the Braves’ leadoff man, Heyward hit .345 with a .418 on-base percentage in 3 games. Heyward had previously struggled for a large portion of the season, in part due to missing three weeks in May after an emergency appendectomy.
The Braves have compiled an NL best 90-62 record, and an 8.5 game lead in the NL East, by overcoming multiple injuries. Starting pitcher Tim Hudson and relievers Eric O’Flaherty and Jonny Venters have been lost for the year, as well as utility IF Ramiro Pena; all of these seemed to be somewhat freakish, coincidental injuries. OF Justin Upton has battled knee, back, and hand problems, while OF BJ Upton has had groin, forearm, and shoulder injuries. C/OF Evan Gattis strained his oblique, 2B Dan Uggla had eye surgery, OF Reed Johnson had tendonitis, OF Jordan Schafer had ankle contusions, and C Brian McCann got a late start to the season after offseason shoulder surgery. P Paul Maholm has had several nagging arm and shoulder injuries, and P Brandon Beachy came back from Tommy John surgery, only to be sidelined again with elbow inflammation. They have thought through this, in part due to the acquisitions of IF Elliot Johnson and P Scott Downs, as well as the outstanding play of 1B Freddie Freeman and 3B Chris Johnson both at the plate and in the field, SS Andrelton Simmons defensively (he leads all of baseball in Defensive Wins Above Replacement by an entire “win”), the starts of Mike Minor and Julio Teheran, and the absolute domination of closer Craig Kimbrel, who is a Cy Young Award candidate.
Heyward has 10 games to get his timing and rhythm back to major league standards. That should be plenty of time, as he has, unfortunately, had to come back from injury multiple times in his 4-year career. That being said, the reinstatement of Heyward to the Braves lineup should make a big difference in two weeks, when we’ll be watching playoff baseball and every pitch will matter.