Heyward finding his groove for Braves
ATLANTA – There are days when everything is so effortless, days when Jason Heyward makes baseball look so easy.
His swing, power, speed, defense and amazingly strong arm work in perfect harmony on those days. His immense skill set makes you think Heyward can do no wrong.
That’s when it’s tough to realize that he just turned 23 years old, that he still has much to learn, that his talents, as tremendous as they might be, still need to be refined.
“He’s not a finished product, by any means of the imagination,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said.
And we’ve seen that on occasion this season, those moments when Heyward has loafed after a ball rolling through the outfield grass in right field or when he swings and misses at pitches he has no chance at hitting or when he loses fly balls in the sun.
But it’s then we have to remember his youth and that his upside is other-worldly.
Heyward has made amazing strides this season, especially after a 2011 racked by injuries and regression and being called out by Chipper Jones.
He has been healthy, and he has been hitting, especially for the better part of the past three months, showing more glimpses of what he can become.
No Braves player has been more consistent since the early days of June, and no Braves player can match Heyward’s all-around combination of speed and power.
He’s hitting .309 since the second day of June, with 15 home runs, 41 RBI and nine stolen bases. He hit .348 in June and was the National League player of the week late that month after a week in which he smoked the ball for a .522 average and three homers.
Two months later, somebody hit the repeat button, because he’s doing it again. Heyward has hit in eight of the past 10 games, going .405 with two home runs, seven RBI and three steals.
It was news when Heyward sat out against the Padres on Aug. 14, because he had started every game since June 12, playing every inning during that stretch.
Now with 21 home runs and 18 stolen bases, Heyward is closing in on becoming the first Brave to reach the 20/20 club since Andruw Jones had 36 home runs and 21 steals in 2000.
“Jason’s been great. He really has been great,” Gonzalez said. “He has been tremendous in the outfield and base running, and he’s been really a force. In the last two months, he’s been able to win baseball games for us. Offensively, defensively and baserunning.”
There was a time this season when Freddie Freeman seemed destined to take over the third spot in the Braves’ lineup.
Even Jones, the longtime resident of that address, was seemingly ready to bequeath that to Freeman earlier this year.
But then Freeman had trouble with his eyes and then hurt a finger. Just when he was getting comfortable there, the Braves needed someone else to move into that critical spot in the batting order.
Heyward was the logical choice. So there he went and, for the most part, has stayed, ever since the waning days of June.
“Jason has taken ownership of that three hole, he really has,” Gonzalez said.
Heyward is slowly meeting the expectations that have been placed on him since he first showed up at spring training three years ago. He’s still growing into his body, still developing strength, still discovering what he can and can’t do.
He’ll still have his bad days, like Sunday, when he couldn’t find two fly balls in the afternoon sun at Turner Field, but the good far outweighs his struggles these days.
“For me, I know everybody always wants more, because that’s the way human nature is, but if puts up these numbers, or the numbers he’s going to finish with (this season), for 10 or 12 more years, or whatever his career is, that’s pretty darn good,” Gonzalez said. “He’s not a finished product, by any means of the imagination. He just turned 23, so there’s a lot of growth there with him, but for me to say I want .350 or 25 home runs, sometimes we get a little carried away with that kind of stuff. If, by the end of the year, he’s hitting .280 with 23-24 home runs with 90 RBIs, and you do that for eight, nine, 10 years, it’s a pretty good dang career.”