Caray: Thoughts on Heyward in leadoff role again, Avilan’s return; more

After a 44-game hiatus, Jason Heyward returned to the top spot in the batting order, where he's hitting .257 this season.

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FOXSportsSouth.com checks in with play-by-play announcer Chip Caray to discuss the latest surrounding the Braves.

FOXSPORTSSOUTH.COM: After 44 games, Jason Heyward was moved back to the leadoff position. Fredi Gonzalez’s quote was "we are going to try it for a while." He’s certainly more of a middle of the order bat, but all the numbers say Heyward is the best choice. What does he bring to the top spot that the others can’t?

CHIP CARAY: Ultimately you like your leadoff guy to get on base. He will draw walks, he will put the ball in play. He’s not going to strikeout a ton. He’ll see some pitches. He has some speed. He can do a lot of things. He’s a multi-faceted, multi-dimensional player and I think what’s so intriguing about Jason Heyward is he’s been a Brave for five year and I don’t really know that we or he knows what he really is as an offensive player.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It gives Fredi Gonzalez some much-needed flexibility in how he puts together his lineup. He can leadoff and when he did leadoff he hit over .300 and he had a stretch when he hit over .400 for an extended period of time and the Braves offense really, really took off.

We’re at a time in the season, with 40-some games left where the manager doesn’t care about contracts, he doesn’t care about egos, he doesn’t care about hurt feelings. All he cares about is production. The guys that are playing and hitting the best are, and probably should, will play. It’s up to Fredi to find creative ways to put together his lineup so that he doesn’t have four lefties or five lefties in a row against opposing teams left-handed pitchers, and conversely, right-handed pitchers too. But we’re at a stage where, I don’t want to say you’re playing with a sense of desperation or any more of a sense of urgency, but the fact of the matter is the train’s pretty far down the track and it’s coming up pretty quickly.

It’s time to throttle up and get to the destination you want to go to and do it by any means necessary and if that means Jason Heyward leads off and B.J. Upton hits eighth or doesn’t play or it means Emilio Bonifacio hits eighth or doesn’t play, so be it. That’s what I think has to be done and I credit Fredi for doing that.

FSS: Given Heyward’s track record at the spot and the way others have struggled, do you expect this to be a permanent change, at least as far as this season? It almost feels like they tried other guys, they tried not to have Jason in that spot.

CC: I think production is going to dictate that. I’m not a second-guesser, but something looking forward the Braves need to figure out is where they’re going to find a true leadoff guy with this team. They haven’t had one since Michael Bourn left.

Michael Bourn did everything the Braves wanted him to do. He played terrific center field, he led off, he got on base. Yeah, he struck out a lot but he scored a lot of runs and he made Jason Heyward a better outfielder. That’s the kind of guy this offense needs. I think when you look at the really good teams around Major League Baseball, they have that true prototypical No. 1 hitter.

Can Jason do that? Yeah … but ideally I think he would probably tell you and the Braves would probably tell you they like him in the middle of the order. He’s a run producer. If Jason plays well and performs well, he’s going to stay there, but it comes down to performance and he’s got to do it and hopefully the Braves will take off as a result.


FSS.COM: Luis Avilan was thrown back into the fire as the left-handed specialist, with three of the first four Dodgers he faced in Thursday’s ninth were lefties. Did you see signs that he can come close to returning to effective as he was a year ago?

CC: The first outing was not at all encouraging. He struggled down in the minor leagues; he said he was working on some pitches and had fastball command problems. I think we saw that against L.A.

Just a couple of years ago the Braves were blessed with a very deep ‘pen from the left side. They had three left-handers in the bullpen, all of those guys that could throw low-to-mid-90s and you could play matchups the final three innings if you had to. The Braves don’t have that luxury now.

Avilan is a critically important piece. He can get lefties out. He has to. James Russell is a left-handed pitcher who has been better against righties. The Braves haven’t really solved that problem yet, with who is going to be the left-hander out of the bullpen to get a lefty out in a critical spot in the game.

Russell’s got experience doing it, Avilan has done it before. But now you’ve got to do it because there’s limited time left and there really aren’t that many options out there for the Braves to deploy unless you want to bring on a rookie in Chasen Shreve or somebody else from the minor leagues, but I don’t think that’s something anybody relishes, fighting for a playoff spot and throwing a rookie in those big, important situations and big, important games.

FSS.COM: Let’s turn our attention to the A’s, a team the Braves aren’t familiar with and one that owns MLB’s best record. But if there’s a silver lining it’s that Game 1 starter Jason Hammel has a 5.68 ERA vs. the Braves and Game 3 features Jon Lester, who they had success against earlier this year when he was with the Red Sox. Is that something the Braves can hang their hats on?

CC: The Braves seem to rise to the level of their competition. They did it against Washington and took two out of three.

Oakland’s an amazing story. Forget the ‘Moneyball’ part of it. Just the flexibility their club has.

The term that somebody used to describe them was they’re a team of misfit toys. There are a lot of parts that didn’t work or didn’t fit with other organizations and they’ve somehow come together and became the team that has the best record in baseball.

They get on base. They hit home runs. They have terrific pitching.

Hammel hasn’t had as much luck in the American League with the designated hitter. He’s been hit pretty hard, but now he sees the Braves and he has his sinker back; that happened in his last outing, so we’ll see if the Braves can make him elevate the baseball.

Lester, they’ve seen him before and he’s one of the best in the business and he is pitching great right now and all of us are excited to see Sonny Gray, who pitches in Game 2. This guy isn’t particularly well known, but he’s having a great year for Oakland too.

The old French saying, "plus ça change," the more things change the more they say the same, the Braves go from Washington to L.A. to Oakland, all three of those clubs have terrific pitching and it’s up to the Braves offense to start pulling its part of the load here and score some runs.