While on a Minor League rehab assignment with Triple-A Gwinnett in Indianapolis the previous two nights, Heyward made enough good swings to please roving hitting guru Lee Elia, who was assigned to help the young outfielder fix the mechanical flaws that developed during the two months Heyward played with shoulder discomfort.
"I was able to use my shoulder, but I wasn't able to use it the right way," Heyward said. "But now it feels [looser], and like there is a lot less pressure. It feels like it should."
Heyward laughed when asked if he strategically chose this date to return. The Braves presented Jason Heyward bobblehead dolls for the first time in his Major League career Wednesday night.
"Did he plan that?" Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman playfully asked.
After going hitless in three at-bats for Triple-A Gwinnett Tuesday night, Heyward informed the Braves that his right shoulder had responded as favorably as it had the night before, when he went 1-for-4 with a double.
Once Heyward returned to Atlanta on a 7 a.m. ET flight Wednesday morning and was able to sleep a little bit, he grew more excited about his return.
"I would have felt horrible if I had come back before I was ready," Heyward said. "I got myself physically ready, and after that, I just followed my heart."
Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said last week that Heyward needs to learn that the value he can bring to the club, even when he is not feeling 100 percent healthy.
Jones was upset when some media outlets claimed he was "calling Heyward out."
After talking to Jones on the phone last week, Heyward said he understood the message the 39-year-old veteran was attempting to deliver.
"[Chipper] and I have a great relationship," Heyward said. "He wasn't saying, 'We need Jason back at 100 percent.' He was saying he doesn't need to be 100 percent healthy to be on the field and help us win."
After Heyward began feeling shoulder discomfort in the middle of March, the Braves routinely treated him to minimize the soreness. Concern grew on May 10, when Heyward briefly felt some numbness in his right forearm. After an MRI exam two days later showed nothing but inflammation, he received a cortisone shot.
Heyward missed six straight starts, then returned to the lineup for just three games before going on the disabled list. Though another MRI exam showed only inflammation, he battled limited flexibility and regular discomfort even when he was simply sitting on the couch.
A few weeks of rest helped Heyward feel relief last week while rehabbing at the Braves' Spring Training complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
"It's good to see him back in the clubhouse and the lineup," Freeman said. "It's definitely going to help our team."
As his shoulder prevented him from doing things like making adjustments to hit an inside fastball, Heyward grew more frustrated at the plate. He was batting .214, with seven homers and a .724 OPS through 140 at-bats when he was placed on the disabled list.
After fighting inconsistencies during the season's first couple weeks, Heyward righted himself while hitting .400, with two doubles and three homers in his final eight games of April. But before going on the disabled list, he batted .098 (4-for-41), with 15 strikeouts in May.
"It's good to be able to make [adjustments]," Heyward said. "I just go up there relaxed and don't try to fight against myself. I can just worry about what the pitcher has going that day."
To make room for Heyward on the 25-man roster, the Braves optioned Matt Young to Gwinnett.