Heyward surging after suffering sophomore slump
So the player says one thing about his renaissance at the plate for the Atlanta Braves, and the hitting coach says another.
Whatever the case, despite Jason Heyward experiencing the sophomore blues with his bat after his impressive freshman year in the Major Leagues, he is soaring again as a junior.
Said Heyward, explaining his hitting surge while becoming the latest National League Player of the Week, "It's nothing in particular that I'm doing differently. As far as going about hitting, I have my idea of what I like to do. Basically, [the Braves' coaches] just let me be the best hitter that I can be. They don't treat everybody the same."
No, the Braves' coaches don't, but...
Take it from Greg Walker, one of those Braves coaches, who said this isn't exactly the same Jason Heyward. You know, the one who went from exploding on the scene three seasons ago with a home run at Turner Field in his first at-bat, to struggling during an injury-plagued 2011 that produced a .227 batting average, to producing an inconsistent April and May this year.
As for June, Heyward has been crazy at the plate, even surpassing anything he did for a comparable stretch as a rookie, when he was twice named Rookie of the Month.
Prior to his hitless performance Thursday night against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Heyward had a 12-game hitting streak. It featured the left-handed-slugging right fielder going 20-for-44 (.455 batting average) with four home runs, seven RBIs and 11 runs scored. Plus, entering Friday's action, Heyward's June batting average of .370 ranked third in the Major Leagues behind Mike Trout (.394) and Joey Votto (.393).
"He's learning the swing plane. He's learning how to be direct to the ball. He knows how to swing the bat," said Walker, in his first year with Heyward. The teacher was just warming up in regards to describing the evolution of his pupil at the advanced age of 22.
To hear the teacher tell it, the pupil had this annoying yet encouraging habit of ripping foul balls. The teacher watched, nodded and kept suggesting a few tweaks to his pupil along the way.
The teacher's biggest suggestion involved patience.
Just a tad less of it.
"He's been late [on pitches] all year," Walker said. "He's probably taken so many great swings that have led to him fouling balls off that I kept saying to myself, 'Man, if he catches that ball one click farther out front, we're talking damage.' We talked to him about, and it's something he had to work through. And he did it on his own."
Now I get it.
They're BOTH right -- the teacher and the pupil.
Consider, too, that after Heyward said he was doing "nothing in particular" to change his hitting plight right now, he kept emphasizing a word that jives with Walker's "one click farther out front" theory about Heyward's turnaround at the plate.
Timing, timing, timing.
"The timing is there, and the feel is there, and you're consistently repeating what you want to repeat when [you're hitting well]," said Heyward. "As far as seeing the ball and what not -- to me, from my perspective, that has a lot to do with timing. Rhythm and timing. Keeping it simple."
Sounds like Walker.
Said the teacher, "You don't want to try and reinvent these guys. We went back and looked at what Jason did in 2010, and we just said, 'Listen. Now that he's healthy, let's get back to having him do those things.' "
Not coincidentally, Heyward finally is healthy.
How healthy? He isn't saying.
"That's irrelevant to me," Heyward said, abruptly, suggesting that he remains sensitive to any hint that he is injury prone, which has been the claim of the few critics in his baseball world. Since joining the Braves, he has suffered to varying degrees from issues with his thumb, knee, groin, shoulder and oblique.
At one point last season, Braves veteran Chipper Jones mentioned to reporters that Heyward needed to find ways to stay in the lineup and play through his aches and pains.
That said, Heyward's bum shoulder in particular contributed to most of his hitting woes last year.
For verification, there is this year's results.
Right, Mr. Heyward?
"Well, being healthy, you can make adjustments. When you're not healthy, with a shoulder problem or what have you, you're not able to make this adjustments," Heyward said. "If you can't make adjustments, somebody is able to get you out the same way more than one time in a row. When you're hurt, you can tell yourself that you want to make that adjustment, but you might not be able to."
The constantly adjusting Heyward is healthy, all right, and here's another reason we know as much. In addition to playing in 72 of the Braves' 75 games so far, Heyward has become one of the game's most accommodating and effective hitters.
In the Braves' batting order, Heyward has hit second (four times), third (twice), fifth (10 times), sixth (24 times) and seventh (27 times).
"As long as I'm in that lineup, I'm going to do my best every night," Heyward said. "I'm going to try to help my team win a ballgame, whether it's with my glove, my bat or what have you. Long as I'm in the lineup."
That's been often these days, and the only people complaining loudly are opposing pitchers.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.