ATLANTA -- When manager Fredi Gonzalez and the rest of the Braves' coaching staff laid out a script for Jason Heyward's return to action late last week, they circled Wednesday's series finale as a convenient way to split up the final 10 games of the season for their star outfielder in his return from a fractured jaw.
The two athletic catches Heyward has made in his first two games back at Turner Field since he was hit in the face by a pitch on Aug. 21 in New York were not in that script. In Monday night's game, Heyward came in on a dead run to make a diving grab in shallow center that robbed Yuniesky Betancourt of a base hit, and on Tuesday, he ranged back to the warning track to haul in a long fly ball off the bat of Jonathan Lucroy as his momentum slammed him into the center-field wall.
Each opportunity to sell out for a fly ball adds a measure of comfort to the team's view of Heyward's recovery going into the playoffs.
"He's got a reckless abandon, too," Gonzalez said. "He's fast, he gets good reads and he's not afraid to leave his feet, he's not afraid to challenge for a ball."
Heyward was left out of the lineup on Wednesday to rest after appearing in five consecutive games since his activation from the disabled list last Friday. He is scheduled to play the final four games of the season before taking advantage of the three days off before Game 1 of the National League Division Series.
"He came in on Saturday and played two innings of defense, and for a guy that hasn't played in, call it, six weeks, you hate to come this far and all of a sudden hurt his legs," Gonzalez said. "When we sat down in the Chicago area, we kind of scripted the plan out, and actually he's played more than what we were going to do from the very beginning, which is a great testament thus far."
Heyward's shift to center field just after the All-Star break to fill the void left by injuries to B.J. Upton and Jordan Schafer largely coincided with his ascension to the leadoff spot in the batting order, which helped spark the offense and set the Braves on their season-long 14-game winning streak. Gonzalez did not hesitate to slot him back into those two prominent roles once he was cleared to play, knowing full well that Heyward would not be tentative in his return to action.
"I don't even worry about [re-injuring his jaw] anymore, other than [Sunday] when we were celebrating and he was wearing a helmet," 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.Less