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With Heyward out, B.J. getting more playing time

With Heyward out, B.J. getting more playing time


ST. LOUIS -- When Jason Heyward suffered a broken jaw on Wednesday, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said he would shift Justin Upton from left field to right field and then mix and match to fill his other two outfield spots.

Gonzalez discussed the possibility of giving Evan Gattis a lot of playing time in left field. But with Gattis hitting just .188 (22-for-117) with three home runs and a .581 OPS since June 1, the Braves will be less persuaded to overlook his defensive shortcomings as an outfielder.

During the past two games, Gonzalez has started Jordan Schafer in left field and B.J. Upton in center field. This arrangement strengthens the defense that is weakened in Heyward's absence and also provides Upton a chance to get the consistent at-bats he needs to escape his season-long funk.

After learning Heyward will likely miss at least a month, Upton said he immediately realized the need to step up and prove to be the player the Braves envisioned when they gave him a franchise-record contract in November. He entered Saturday hitting .184 with a .560 OPS.

"I know I immediately thought to myself, 'All right, now is the time,'" Upton said. "If there has ever been a better time all season, this is it."

Making his first start since Heyward's injury on Friday night, Upton recorded a hit in three plate appearances and produced a sharp opposite-field line drive that provided some indication he could be regaining the comfort he had when he recorded 10 hits in his first 21 at-bats after coming off the disabled list earlier this month.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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