ST. LOUIS — While the Braves prepared for a series opener Thursday at St. Louis, teammate Jason Heyward was in Atlanta, having metal plates surgically attached to his broken jaw to mend two fractures from being hit by a fastball Wednesday.
Their hot-hitting leadoff man and right fielder was out of sight, but Heyward was not out of the minds of the Braves, who will probably have to make do without him for at least the rest of the regular season. The Braves haven’t given a timetable for his return, but it typically takes four to six weeks to recover from a broken jaw.
“I think it changes the team,” said rookie outfielder/catcher Evan Gattis, who could get most of the playing time in left field while Heyward is out, with Justin Upton moved from left field to right. “We’ll just see what happens, but I think it’s a big piece we’re missing. We’ve been much more dynamic with him leading off.”
Heyward was moved to the leadoff spot July 27, the second game of a 14-game winning streak. He had a .341 average with six doubles, five homers and a .414 on-base percentage in 88 at-bats as a leadoff hitter.
That surge came to an abrupt halt Wednesday when Mets left-hander Jonathon Niese threw a 90-mph fastball that struck the right side of his face, just below the ear flap.
“You’re never trying to hit guys in the face,” Braves backup catcher Gerald Laird said.”You’re fooling with guys’ careers up there. … (Niese) looked concerned. I mean, not to say he did it on purpose — I don’t think he did — but for a guy who has as good a control as he does, it just brings a little bit of doubt in your mind. Who knows if it was a purpose pitch to kind of back him off and it got away. But I don’t think any time a guy tries to throw at someone that he tries to hit him in the face.”