ATLANTA -- After Jason Heyward underwent an emergency appendectomy on April 22, he was cognizant of the potential dangers of rushing back to action. But after completing a headfirst slide while stealing a base for Triple-A Gwinnett on Tuesday, the Braves right fielder was convinced he was ready to rejoin Atlanta's lineup.
Confident that Heyward had taken all of the necessary steps to recover from the surgical procedure, the Braves activated the 23-year-old right fielder from the disabled list Friday, then reaped the benefits a few hours later, as he recorded two hits and drew a key walk in an 8-5 series-opening win against the Dodgers at Turner Field.
"It's nice to see him back and swinging the bat like we know he can," Braves left fielder Justin Upton said. "He's going to be big for us this year. It was nice to have his bat back."
Looking much like he had when he rolled through the final four months of last season, Heyward began Friday night's two-hit performance with a double that fueled a two-run third inning. He also recorded a two-out, seventh-inning single that provided the Braves an 8-4 lead.
But Heyward's most influential plate appearance of the night might have come in the sixth inning, when he battled back from a 1-2 count to draw a walk off left-handed reliever Paco Rodriguez, who entered from the bullpen to face the left-handed slugger. Instead of burning another reliever, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly stuck with Rodriguez against the right-handed Upton, who followed with a decisive grand slam.
"I'm not thinking anything about the surgery or anything else," Heyward said. "I'm just playing ball and trying compete."
Friday night's game was Heyward's first at the Major League level since April 20. He hit .300 (6-for-20) on a six-game rehab assignment last week with Gwinnett. He served as a designated hitter during the first three games, then reintroduced himself to right field for the final three games.
"It took me about three days of playing for my body to just settle in," Heyward said. "I'm happy to be playing the game. I love the game with the group of teammates I have. I'm just ready to have some fun."
The nearly month-long absence could prove to be a blessing in disguise for Heyward, who hit .121 with two home runs before going on the DL.
He remained relatively sedentary for the first week following his surgery, then slowly rebuilt his strength with the understanding that he needed to guard against pulling an oblique muscle or developing a hernia.
"Everything happens for a reason," Heyward said. "I'm just happy I made the best of the time I had down. I feel a lot better than I have in a while at the plate."
To create a roster spot for Heyward, the Braves stuck with their plan to go with a six-man bullpen for at least a few days. But instead of sending David Carpenter to Gwinnett, they placed Jordan Walden on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation.
Walden began feeling shoulder discomfort during Saturday's game in San Francisco. The Braves opted to put him on the disabled list after he threw a bullpen session Friday afternoon.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said the club does not believe Walden is dealing with a significant injury. But because the team was already planning to go with a six-man bullpen for at least the next few games, it could not afford to carry Walden with the understanding he will not be available to pitch for at least a few more days.
"Carrying a guy who was not feeling good and going short -- having five guys available, as you tried to baby one guy -- didn't really make sense," Gonzalez said.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.