A day after Jason Heyward came off the disabled list and returned to the leadoff spot Friday, the big outfielder was out of the lineup Saturday against the Cubs. That caused some angst in Braves Country, but it was precisely the plan that Heyward had divulged Friday.
Heyward was out 30 days after having his jaw broken in two places by a 90-mph fastball. He came off the DL after only one “live” batting practice session against a minor league pitcher, and most teammates didn’t expect him to be activated until Monday.
They were thrilled to see his name atop the lineup Friday and said it sparked the team in its 9-5 win in the series opener.
The plan that he and Braves officials agreed on was for Heyward to play five innings or get three at-bats in Friday’s series opener — he went 0-for-2 with a 10-pitch strikeout, a walk and a fly out — and then to rest Saturday and perhaps enter the game late for defense or to pinch-hit. He will return to the lineup Sunday for the series finale.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez said the Braves wanted to be careful easing Heyward back in the lineup, primarily because of the stress on his leg muscles after having so little strenuous activity in the past month.
“I talked to Jason this morning, and he said his legs felt great,” Gonzalez said before Saturday’s game. “That’s good. Maybe we get him a pinch-hit (Saturday). The more at-bats he gets, the more pitches he sees, the better he’s going to be.”
Catcher Brian McCann was also out of the lineup Saturday, a day after his two-out single drove in the winning run and sparked a four-run ninth inning. Gonzalez had previously informed the catchers of his plan to rest McCann on Saturday and play Gerald Laird against left-hander Travis Wood, with McCann to return to the lineup Sunday.
Medlen keeps rolling: He didn’t get a decision in Saturday’s 3-1 loss, but Kris Medlen turned in another in a string of strong performances for the Braves right-hander since veteran Tim Hudson’s season-ending broken ankle.
Medlen was charged with six hits, one run, two walks and six strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings Saturday. He left with a 1-0 lead and a runner on first base, and that run scored when reliever Scott Downs gave up a pair of hits to the next two batters.
Since Hudson was injured July 24, Medlen is 8-2 with a 2.31 ERA in 11 games, including 8-1 in 10 starts. He won four consecutive starts before Saturday.
“He was great,” Laird said. “It was exactly what I expected. He’s been pitching great the last couple of months, like one of the better pitchers in baseball. It’s just a tough one, because he worked his tail off all game up to that point (in the eighth inning), and you want to get him a win.
“He had everything working. His fastball in and out, the great change-up like he always has, and his curveball was working today. It was just fun to be back there. He was working it really well.”