Twenty-three days after his jaw was broken in two places by a 90-mph fastball, Braves slugger Jason Heyward was back on the field hitting Friday, albeit hitting pitches thrown about 30 mph slower.
Wearing a modified batting helmet with a guard attachment to protect the right side of his face, Heyward took batting practice before Friday’s series opener against the San Diego Padres at Turner Field. He had previously been restricted to hitting balls off a tee or tossed from someone beside the batter’s box.
While there is not specific timetable for his return, the Braves and Heyward hope their right fielder will be able to play in some games before the regular season ends Sept. 29 and be ready for the postseason. He’s expected to face live pitching in instructional league games at the team’s spring-training site in Florida before he rejoins the Braves.
Heyward didn’t hit balls as far as he usually does during batting practice, but made solid contact with plenty of pitches and didn’t shown any signs of being encumbered by the helmet attachment as he took swings at pitches thrown by first-base coach Terry Pendleton.
Heyward also caught some fly balls in the outfield, the first time he’s done that since being hit in the face by Mets left-hander Jonathan Niese during an Aug. 21 game at New York. Heyward, who didn’t travel with the team on a seven-game road trip that ended Thursday, had protective braces and rubber bands removed Monday.
Metal plates that were surgically attached over the fractures three weeks ago will remain.
“I’m just looking forward to seeing him hitting on the field,” manager Fredi Gonzalez said before the workout. “Maybe that’s a couple of rounds, maybe just a little bit in the outfield. It all just depends on what he feels like, what he feels his body can handle. I’m just letting him go out there, let him run around and do whatever he’s capable of doing.”
Heyward ended up taking a full session of batting practice. After telling a Braves media-relations official that he didn’t want to be interviewed prior to the workout, Heyward stopped only briefly to chat with reporters afterward on his way back to a closed clubhouse.
“I don’t have anything for you, other than I hit, and I ran, and I shagged (fly balls),” he said.
Asked if he felt OK, Heyward said, “I wouldn’t have been cleared if everything didn’t feel OK. I’m cleared to go, as long as everything felt fine. So nothing’s holding me back. Got to let time take its course now.”
Heyward might accompany the team on its trip to Washington Monday, or he could travel to Florida to work out and eventually get into some instructional-league games.
“Maybe he starts seeing some live pitching,” Gonzalez said. “But we’re not there yet. I guess these next two days will tell us where Monday will bring us to.”
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.