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.”
Heyward was operated on Thursday by Dr. Glenn Maron, who attached plates to fractures on the side of his jaw and chin.
“They did not wire it shut, which is a good thing, because he can get food in him,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “By not being wired shut, he can keep his weight on.”
When Heyward is ready for baseball activities, he’ll play in instructional league games in Florida. Minor league affiliates will have concluded their seasons, so a rehab assignment won’t be possible.
Gonzalez plans to use Jordan Schafer in the leadoff spot whenever he’s in the lineup. Schafer has platooned recently with center fielder B.J. Upton, but Schafer can play any outfield position. Switch-hitting rookie Joey Terdoslavich also is expected to get some starts in left field and perhaps in right.
The Braves hope that others can help pick up the slack caused by Heyward’s absence. Second baseman Dan Uggla, who’s been recovering from laser eye surgery, is scheduled to play a rehab game or two next week and be activated Wednesday.
©2013 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.)
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