The Atlanta Braves lost a huge bat in the lineup on Wednesday, as outfielder Jason Heyward fractured his jaw in two places when New York Mets’ pitcher Jonathon Niese hit him in the sixth inning in what would prove to be a 4-1 victory for the Braves. The injury is a very significant one for the Braves’ first round pick from the 2007 MLB Draft, as it will likely be 4-6 weeks before he returns to the lineup.
Although the losses of both starting pitcher Tim Hudson (out for the season with a broken ankle) and second baseman Dan Uggla (currently on the DL due to Lasik eye surgery) has hurt this season, the loss of Heyward for an extended amount of time may be more crippling than the loss of one of the staff’s aces or one of the team’s leading home run hitters.
For those who have been unaware, the Braves have kept pace with the Los Angeles Dodgers as Major League Baseball’s hottest team due in part to the great play from Heyward, who has served as the team’s leadoff hitter and has promptly batted .348 with four home runs in August.
The loss of Heyward may not be as devastating at this point due to the Braves’ fourteen game lead over the Washington Nationals, but that does not mean that the team won’t have to adjust accordingly. It appears at this point that the team will more than likely see more playing time from Evan Gattis along with outfielders Joey Terdoslavich, Jordan Schafer and Reed Johnson to compliment the Upton brothers, which means that there is a legitimate chance that the team chooses to stay with their current roster (the team did acquire second baseman Elliot Johnson earlier this week to replace Tyler Pastornicky).
Although it is probably unlikely with so many options coming off the bench, if the team does look outside the organization for a temporary right fielder, my guess is the team goes the waiver wire route and pulls in a veteran player like Mets’ outfielder Marlon Byrd to fill the void temporarily.
With a long road ahead, it is imperative that Jason Heyward recovers from this jaw injury and is ready for an October run, because you could make a legitimate argument that his absence could be as harmful as any other current Atlanta player. With that being said, I truly believe that if Heyward’s rehab takes longer than the regular season lasts, the Braves will once again fail to win their first playoff series of the postseason.