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David O'BrienDavid O'Brien

Braves’ Heyward becoming player we expected

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Jason Heyward turned 25 on Saturday, and lately the right fielder has been hitting like the player most of us expected him to be by this point in his career. Well, not with as much power as we anticipated, but otherwise, like that line-driving-hitting, aggressive-on-the-bases offensive force we envisioned but had seen only in spurts of a few weeks here and there since the spectacular first half of his rookie season in 2010.

Defensively, the strong-armed, speedy right fielder is as good or better than anyone in the game at his position. But offensively, Heyward is the first to admit he’s a work in progress. And lately, there has been plenty of progress.

In his past 23 games, Heyward has hit .386 (32-for-83) with eight extra-base hits (one homer), 13 RBIs, a .447 OBP and .518 slugging percentage.

And since the beginning of June, Heyward has hit .292 (62-for-212) in 57 games with 18 extra-base hits (four homers), 29 RBIs, 32 runs, 26 walks, 31 strikeouts, a .376 OBP and .425 slugging percentage.

Jason Heyward is having one of the best extended hitting periods of his career, and says he's learned a lot and is beginning to figure out how to apply it all.  He just turned 25 on Saturday.

Jason Heyward is having one of the best extended hitting periods of his career, and says he’s learned a lot and is beginning to figure out how to apply it all. He just turned 25 on Saturday.

That’s a little over one-third of a season, and the Braves would gladly take a .292 average and .376 OBP from Heyward for a full year, albeit preferably with a bit higher slugging percentage, particularly as a middle-of-the-order hitter now that he’s in the fifth spot and probably not going to move back to leadoff in the forseeable future.

“I’m in the lineup surrounded by guys that can do some damage,” Heyward said of his recent production. “I feel like I’ve been in a different spot in the lineup each season, but this year I feel like we finally found a spot for me where I can help the team, and these guys around me are dangerous. It’s just fun to be a part of that.”

It’s one of best stretches  of his career, and Heyward hasn’t missed a beat since returning from a four-game as beat since returning from a four-game absence for a low-back strain, going 11-for-27 with four extra-base hits, four multi-hit games and three RBIs in seven games since returning to the lineup.

That picking-up-where-he-left-off is in contrast to Heyward’s performance immediately after returning from some past injuries. He gave credit to Chipper Jones for influencing him with that.

“Trying to get better at that part,” Heyward said of transitioning back into the lineup after some down time. “I always wondered how Chip would do that whenever he missed time. I mean we saw him miss six weeks and he’d be right there. It’s just trying to keep it simple, do the little things, be on time (at the plate) and not try to do too much. After that you can just go out and play.”

The only area that’s been slow to come along for Heyward is hitting against left-handed pitchers. He’s still batting just .160 (17-for-106) with a .231 OBP against lefties, compared to a robust .306 (97-for-317) with a .396 OBP vs. righties.

Heyward was hit in the face by a fastball from Mets lefty Jon Niese late last season and spent a month on the DL recovering from surgery to repair his broken jaw after that frightening incident. He still wears a protective guard attached to the right ear flap of his helmet to protect that side of his face, which still has metal plates that were surgically attacked to the jawbone to aid the healing.

However, Heyward believes his performance against lefties this season is related to the relatively limited number of at-bats he’s had against them. The Braves have faced lefties less than one-third of the time this season after seeing almost half as many lefties as righties in recent seasons.

Heyward hit .226 with a .294 OBP in 451 at-bats against lefties over the 2011-2013 seasons, compared to .266/.354 in 914 at-bats against righties.

“I think (facing fewer lefties) definitely has something to do with it for me,” he said. “It’s like anything, like spring training and translating that to the season – it’s different adrenaline, different type pitches, different scouting reports. The only way, again, is to go face them. I feel like it’s been really sporadic, spread out. We get (Cole) Hamels, we only got (Cliff) Lee once because he’s been hurt this year. After that I can’t remember too many other lefty starters. I know we got (Jon) Lester with the Red Sox. But it’s tough to stay sharp on them when you don’t get to see them often.”

Most of the lefty starters the Braves have faced have been at least above-average pitchers. “Outstanding lefties,” Heyward said. “And then the other ones are the shutdown lefties out of the bullpen. It’s tough, man.”

In other words, he’s not reading too much into his numbers against lefties this season, when he’s faced only about one-fourth as many lefties as righties.

“Exactly. I don’t read too much into it,” he said. “I know there’s only so much I can do there. I’ve been able to move some runners over and put the ball in play (against lefties) in those situaitons. That’s the best thing you can do is try to make a positive out if you do make an out. But I can’t be selfish. I want to do well against lefties, but if it doesn’t come it doesn’t come.”

Speaking of situational hitting, that’s an area where Heyward has made particularly notable progress. He’s batting .291 with runners on base and .300 (27-for-90) with runners in scoring position. During the 2011-2013 seasons he hit .262 with runners on base and .236 (68-for-288) with runners in scoring position.

“You know what, ma? This is year 5,” Heyward said, smiling. “I (just turned) 25. It’s still early in this process for me. It’s starting to feel more like how it was – not as far as the competition in the minor leaugues, but just as far as going out there and not thinking, really letting the game come to me, just focus on being on time (at the plate), and everything else is going to take care of itself.

“As long as I’m on the field and getting an opportunity to learn and get a feel for the game, and I feel like it’s starting to come together.”

BRAVES  LINEUP Monday vs. Dodgers

  1. Bonifacio ss
  2. La Stella 2b
  3. Freeman 1b
  4. JUpton lf
  5. Heyward rf
  6. Gattis  c
  7. Johnson 3b
  8. BUpton cf
  9. Teheran p

• Tonight’s matchup: It’s Julio Teheran against Dodgers newcomer Kevin Correia, who was 5-13 with a 4.94 ERA for the Twins before being traded Saturday.

The Dodgers are starting Correia tonight primarily to give others starters extra rest. As a result, the Braves will avoid facing both Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke in the four-game series. Greinke pitched Saturday and Kershaw Sunday against the Brewers, who will have to face both of those aces again in a series this coming weekend.

Kevin Correia, whom the Dodgers got in a Saturday trade from the Twins, starts the series opener Monday vs. Braves.

Kevin Correia, whom the Dodgers got in a Saturday trade from the Twins, starts the series opener Monday vs. Braves.

The Dodgers got Correia in a trade for a player to be named later, after losing Josh Beckett to what was likely a season-ending hip injury. The Dodgers also traded for veteran starter Roberto Hernandez last week, and he’ll make his second start in Thursday’s series finale.

As for Correia, he went 1-5 with a 4.80 ERA and .284 opponents’ average in his last eight starts for the Twins, with only 19 strikeouts with 14 walks in 45 innings. He’s pitched well on the road this season, posting a 3.17 ERA and .274 opponents’ average in 11 starts with six homers allowed in 65 1/3 innings.

Correia got just 3.3 support runs per nine innings pitched in those games, including no runs while he was in four of them.

The right-hander is 3-3 with a 4.20 ERA in 12 career games (eight starts) against the Braves, including 1-2 with a 4.80 ERA in his last three games (all starts) against them during 2012-2013.

Justin Upton is 16-for-44 (.364) with a home run against Correia, while Chris Johnson is 4-for-8, Emilio Bonifacio is 4-for-11, Freddie Freeman is 3-for-7 and Jason Heyward is 2-for-9.

Teheran is 2-3 with a 5.06 ERA in his past six games. However, four of those were road games, including all three losses. At home he’s been outstanding all season, going 4-1 with a 1.48 ERA in 11 starts, all quality starts, including 4-0 with a 1.24 ERA and .176 opponents’ average in his past seven. Teheran has allowed more than two earned runs only twice in 11 home starts, and never more than three.

His only regular season start against the Dodgers came during the past road trip, when Teheran limited them to five hits, two runs and thrhee walks with nine strikeouts in eight innings, but came out on the  losing end of a duel with Kershaw.

Yasiel Puig and Adrian Gonzalez is each 2-for-3 against him and Puig has a home run. Hanley Ramirez is 0-for-4 with two strikeouts against Teheran.

• Dodgers update: Stan Kasten’s team went 6-0 with a 1.80 ERA and .293 batting average in their final six games in July, capped by a three-game sweep against the Braves July 29-31 in which they outscored Atlanta 13-7. In 10 games since then, the Dodgers are 5-5 with a 3.46 ERA and .246 batting average, and have been outscored 41-33. Greinke and Kershaw pitched Saturday and Sunday against the Brewers.

Maybe this time the Braves can contain Puig, who has hit just .219 with no homers or RBIs this month, including 3-for-24 (.125) in his past six games. Against the Braves, he’s 23-for-45 (.511) with eight extra-base hits and eight RBIs in 11 career games, including 15-for-28 (.536) in seven regular-season games with three doubles, a triple, three homers, six RBIs and a .581 OBP and 1.036 slugging percentage.

Puig was 7-for-14 with four extra-base hits in the three-game series at Dodger Stadium at the end of July. Nine of his 11 games against the Braves have been in L.A., including all seven regular-season games.

Puig went 3-for-8 with no extra-base hits and four strikeouts and a hit-by-pitch in his only two games in Atlanta, the first two games of last year’s postseason division series.

• Until they meet again: For those keeping track, the Braves are now  26-10 with a 2.20 ERA against the Nationals going back to Aug. 22, 2012, when the current one-sided period in the rivalry began. The Braves are 9-4 with a 2.53 ERA against them this season and have held the Nationals to two or fewer runs in six of the 13 games.

 Another matchup with the Nationals probably can’t come soon enough for Freddie Freeman, who has hit .481 (25-for-52) with six doubles, four homers, .533 OBP and a .827 slugging percentage in 13 games against Washington this season, continuing a long trend.

In his past 57 games  against the Nationals, Freeman has hit .349 (76-for-218) with 26 extra-base hits (nine home runs), 39 RBIs, a .398 OBP and .555 slugging percentage.

• Etc.

  — Justin Upton’s 1,000th career hit was a home run Sunday night. In 32 games beginning July 4, J-Up has hit .302 (35-for-116) with 12 doubles, five homers, 21 RBIs, .380 OBP and .534 slugging percentage.

 – Emilio Bonifacio since return from DL (strained oblique) on July 22: 15 games, 21-for-58 (.362) with four doubles, a homer, four steals in four attempts, a .383 OBP and .483 slugging percentage.

 

• Let’s close with a classic from Radiohead, which you can hear by clicking here.

“PARANOID ANDROID” by Radiohead

Please could you stop the noise, I’m trying to get some rest
From all the unborn chicken voices in my head
What’s that…? (I may be paranoid, but not an android)
What’s that…? (I may be paranoid, but not an android)

Radiohead

Radiohead

When I am king, you will be first against the wall
With your opinion which is of no consequence at all
What’s that…? (I may be paranoid, but no android)
What’s that…? (I may be paranoid, but no android)

Ambition makes you look pretty ugly
Kicking and squealing Gucci little piggy
You don’t remember
You don’t remember
Why don’t you remember my name?
Off with his head, man
Off with his head, man
Why don’t you remember my name?
I guess he does….

Rain down, rain down
Come on rain down on me
From a great height
From a great height… height…
Rain down, rain down
Come on rain down on me
From a great height
From a great height… height…
Rain down, rain down
Come on rain down on me

That’s it, sir
You’re leaving
The crackle of pigskin
The dust and the screaming
The yuppies networking
The panic, the vomit
The panic, the vomit
God loves his children, God loves his children, yeah!

 

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