VIERA, Fla. -- Along with helping Jason Heyward make some mechanical adjustments, Braves hitting coach Greg Walker has persuaded the young outfielder to take an aggressive approach to the plate while continuing to trust his feel for the strike zone.
"We want Jason to be ready to hit and attack fastball strikes," Walker said. "That doesn't mean that we want him in swing mode or swinging at every first pitch. He's always had a good eye. So he'll make good decisions. We want him to get ready to hit."
Walker's desire for Heyward to develop a more aggressive approach is not restricted to what he does early in the count. The 22-year-old outfielder swung at 24 percent of the first-pitch deliveries he saw during his disappointing 2011 season and at 20 percent of the first-pitch deliveries he saw during his impressive 2010 rookie season.
According to Fangraphs.com, Heyward swung at 39.4 percent of the pitches he saw in 2010 and 44.7 percent of the pitches he saw in 2011.
"We don't want to turn him into an early swinger, but we do want him to get ready to hit," Walker said.
Heyward swung at the first two pitches he saw during Wednesday's 3-2, 10-inning win over the Nationals and then battled back from an 0-2 count before directing John Lannan's 2-2 fastball back up the middle for a first-inning single. His patience was displayed in the fourth inning, when he gained a 2-0 count and then grounded out on a full-count fastball.
With a sixth-inning strikeout, Heyward concluded a 1-for-3 performance and found his Grapefruit League batting average at .208 (11-for-53). He has recorded just one hit in 11 at-bats since notching a two-hit game against the Mets on Saturday.
Walker has been encouraged by many of Heyward's recent plate appearances, including the one he produced on Tuesday, when the wind knocked down his long drive to right field against Justin Verlander.
"I looked at [Tuesday] as a pretty good day," Walker said. "He's moving in the right direction. He feels good about it. That's a big battle right there. He's being more aggressive."