ST. LOUIS -- As the Braves prepared for a four-game series against the Cardinals on Thursday night, their thoughts were with Jason Heyward, who earlier in the day underwent surgery to repair the fractured jaw he suffered when he was hit by a Jon Niese fastball during Wednesday's win over the Mets.
Heyward had two metal plates inserted into his jaw during the surgical procedure performed by Dr. Glen Maron in Atlanta. One plate was inserted on the right side of his face and another around his chin, where a second fracture occurred.
"He sounds good on the text [messages]," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He says he wants to see us when we get back home. He wants to be with the club."
It still appears Heyward will need 4-6 weeks to recover, which would sideline him until at least the latter portion of September. The Braves have not released a definitive timetable. But the club remains hopeful the valuable 24-year-old outfielder will be available in late September or at least once the postseason arrives.
Gonzalez was encouraged that Heyward did not have his jaw wired shut. This could help the 6-foot-5, 240-pound right fielder as he attempts to maintain his strength with proper nutrition.
"We're just hoping he gets a speedy recovery," Gonzalez said. "All I know is by not having it wired shut, he can keep the weight on."
Time will tell how long it will take Heyward to physically and mentally recover from this unfortunate incident that led him to walk off the field spitting blood while being supported by Atlanta head trainer Jeff Porter.
"We saw the helmet," Braves third baseman Chris Johnson said. "Usually there would be a mark or something on the helmet, and the helmet was fine. There was not even a ball mark or a scuff."
Gonzalez said he was not shocked to learn of the fracture while the club was flying from New York to St. Louis on Wednesday night.
"Just getting hit where he got hit, it's almost impossible not to break something," Gonzalez said.
Once Heyward is cleared to begin participating in on-field activities again, he will have to get used to seeing live pitching again while participating in Instructional League games or simulated games completed by members of Atlanta's pitching staff who need work in late September.
In the meantime, the Braves will have to attempt to preserve their comfortable National League East lead without the services of Heyward, who had hit .345 with a .418 on-base percentage in the 23 games he played after moving to the leadoff role on July 27.
"I think we think about it because we know what we're missing," Johnson said. "The guy has covered us for the last three weeks. We're going to have to step up. We're going to have to have guys get on base. We're going to have to have somebody step into that leadoff spot. We're going to have to play good defense out there, because everything that was in the air, he caught."
To account for Heyward's absence, Gonzalez will shift Justin Upton from left field to right field. The manager plans to mix and match the players that fill the other two outfield spots. It appears Jordan Schafer will continue to platoon with B.J. Upton in center field. Evan Gattis will likely get regular playing time in left field, and be spelled by Joey Terdoslavich when the opposing team is starting a tough right-handed pitcher.
Schafer will handle the leadoff duties when the Braves are opposing a right-handed starting pitcher. Gonzalez said Andrelton Simmons will likely be at the top of his lineup when his club opposes a left-handed starting pitcher.
While Schafer has compiled a .400 on-base percentage in 21 games as the leadoff hitter, Simmons compiled a .259 mark in the 62 games he has manned the lineup's top spot. Simmons' struggles influenced the decision to move Heyward to the leadoff role.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.