Originally posted on Fox Sports South  |  Last updated 3/30/12
His stride was short and his head stayed down as his eyes followed the pitch toward the plate. Jason Heyward extended his long arms, starting his picturesque swing, and propelled his bat through the strike zone at precisely the right time. The bat met the ball at the perfect place and sent it flying toward left-center field, too far for any outfielder to track down. It bounced off the scoreboard at Champion Stadium and helped the Braves tie the New York Yankees in the ninth inning on Wednesday. That home run did more than just even the score of an otherwise meaningless spring training game between the Braves and the Yankees: it helped declare that Heyward is nearing the Rookie of the Year form he displayed in 2010, not the injury riddled, mechanically disastrous performance he struggled with last year. The home run wasnt monstrous by Heywards standards (Do you remember the tents that the Braves erected beyond the right-field wall to protect their execs cars?). But the location of that homer showed that the hours of hitting and listening to teammates and his coaches and studying video appear to be beginning to pay off for both player and team. Wednesdays home run went to left-center field, but on Thursday, Heyward bettered that. He delivered another homer, a titanic blast over the 30-foot hitters backdrop beyond center field at the Washington Nationals Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Fla. It was reported to be one of the two longest home runs hit in the 18-year history of the stadium. "I'm getting comfortable again," Heyward said Wednesday. "I started from scratch (at the plate) this offseason and I haven't gotten too frustrated. I'm just having fun." The Braves need Heyward to continue to do what hes been doing. For the next six months. This week, he has hit two homers, hit in three consecutive games, driven in three, scored three runs and stolen a base. In the field, hes played with verve and passion, with a dash of recklessness, which he displayed when he reached over the fence to rob a home run against the Yankees. He also made tough running catches on Wednesday and Thursday, playing two different positions. Moving around the outfield hasnt seemed to matter to Heyward this spring. Hes determined to prove he can handle whatever the Braves throw at him. He played right field on Tuesday, both right and center on Wednesday and only center on Thursday. "He gave us a little appetizer," manager Fredi Gonzalez said Wednesday. "He did everything. He showed us what he can do." Heywards mindset and approach this spring has been exactly what the Braves want to see from him. This is a crucial season for Heyward, who will turn 23 on Aug. 9. Can he improve on his excellent rookie year of 2010, when he hit .277 with 18 homers and 72 RBIs? Or will he continue to struggle, like he did last year, when a shoulder injury caused him to overcompensate at the plate and he slumped to .227 with 14 home runs and 42 RBIs? He went to J-Hey to J-Nay. Judging from his teammates comments, no Brave has worked harder than Heyward this offseason. He lost 20 pounds and spent hours in the batting cage with longtime personal hitting coach C.J. Stewart and new Braves hitting coach Greg Walker. Chipper Jones even offered tips and encouragement, anything to get him back on track. Plus, Heywards healthy. The shoulder injury that plagued him last season and the thumb that bothered him in 2010 are both healed. Heyward has still struggled this spring hes hitting .214 and has struck out 21 times in 70 at-bats, to go with his four homers and 11 RBIs -- but the Braves dont want him to re-invent anything. They just want him to swing like he did two years ago. Thats what hes been doing this week and what everybody from the front office to the coaching staff to his teammates to the fans want him to keep doing. If he does, they figure his talent will take care of the rest.
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