Braves’ Jason Heyward aims to return for playoffs

Jason Heyward was sipping on a strawberry and banana, peanut butter smoothie when he walked into the Braves clubhouse Tuesday afternoon. When he smiled, it was gingerly, through bands in his teeth, but the Braves right fielder was upbeat.

Heyward rejoined his Braves teammates for the first time since undergoing surgery for two fractures in his jaw after being hit by a 90 mph fastball from Jonathon Niese on Aug. 21 in New York.

Heyward doesn’t have a specific timetable for his return, but said simply: “My goal is to be hopefully playing in the playoffs.”

Ideally Heyward could get some at-bats in instructional league and start playing again in late September.

For now, Heyward is just focused on the next step. He will visit his oral surgeon Dr. Glenn Maron again Thursday and hopes to be cleared to start jogging on the treadmill. He’s encouraged that Maron used to work with Atlanta Thrashers hockey players and likes his “athletic” mindset.

“My mindset is to get back active as soon as possible,” Heyward said. “… I don’t know how long it’s going to take to heal. But I know as soon as possible I’d like to be playing baseball again.”

Heyward didn’t have to have his jaw wired shut, but has it stabilized with rubber bands that are attached to braces on his teeth. He has eaten only smoothies, soups, ice cream and yogurt so far and has lost four to five pounds. He said it might be another week or two before he can eat foods he has to chew and even then he has to put the bands back on when he’s finished.

Heyward said he received an apology and well-wishes from Niese through Niese’s agent, and not only accepted it gracefully, but asked for a signed ball and glove in return.

“Something to remember,” Heyward said. “I know I won’t forget having a broken jaw.”

Heyward doesn’t sound like a player who’s worried about stepping back into the batter’s box and facing an inside fastball.

“It’s baseball,” Heyward said. “That’s part of the game. I’m not thinking anything about that.”

Fall-league invitations: Mississippi Braves second baseman Tommy La Stella headlined a group of eight Braves prospects to earn an invitation to the Arizona Fall League. Joining him on the Scottsdale Scorpions roster are recent Double-A call-up right-handed reliever Shae Simmons, left fielder Robby Hefflinger, and right-handers Juan Jaime and Aaron Northcraft of Mississippi; and third baseman Kyle Kubitza, shortstop Elmer Reyes and right-hander John Cornely of Lynchburg. Lynchburg’s hitting coach John Moses and GCL Braves trainer Julio Hernandez also were invited.

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