Jason Heyward: MLB’s best No. 6 hitter

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For the second straight Opening Day, Jason Heyward homered in his first at-bat Thursday, drilling a Livan Hernandez offering barely over the wall in right field in the second inning.

As it turned out, it was the Braves’ second and final run of the day.  Heyward received just two more plate appearances, walking in one of them.  Fortunately, Derek Lowe was sharp and the bullpen was stellar, so Atlanta won 2-0 anyway.

But as we’ve been wondering all spring, what exactly is Jason Heyward doing batting sixth?

New Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez made it clear over the winter that he wanted to stick Heyward there as long as Chipper Jones was healthy enough to occupy the third spot.  And Heyward hitting a ridiculous .356/.508/.511 in 45 at-bats this spring didn’t change his mind.

The 21-year-old Heyward is well on his way to becoming one of baseball’s best hitters.  He may get there this year.  He hit .297/.393/.456 as a rookie.  Only three National Leaguers had higher on-base percentages (Joey Votto, Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder).

Of the 15 National Leaguers to get on base at least 37 percent of the time last year, Heyward is the only one currently hitting below the cleanup spot in the lineup.  They’re the cream of the crop.  So likely is Heyward.  However, Gonzalez apparently would prefer Heyward get one fewer at-bat than Nate McLouth every other game.

And that’s just crazy.  Sure, one wants Heyward to drive in runs, too, but it’s not like he wouldn’t have chances batting second behind Martin Prado.   And putting him there would result in more RBI chances for Jones and Brian McCann.   Three of Chipper’s four at-bats today came with none on and two outs.  That probably wouldn’t have been the case had Heyward been batting in front of him.

Video: Gift Ngoepe singles in his first major league at-bat

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Pirates infielder Gift Ngoepe, just called up from Triple-A Indianapolis, singled in his first major league at-bat on Wednesday evening against Cubs starter Jon Lester. It was a well-struck ground ball up the middle in the bottom of the fourth inning. Unfortunately for him, the Pirates could not bring him around to score.

Ngoepe, who was pinch-hitting, stayed in the game to play second base.

Shelby Miller getting third opinion on elbow from Dr. James Andrews

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Diamondbacks starter Shelby Miller was placed on the 10-day disabled list on Monday due to inflammation in his right elbow. He had a second opinion from Dr. Neal ElAttrache on Tuesday and is currently awaiting a third opinion from Dr. James Andrews, Craig Grialou of Arizona Sports reports. That he’s getting a third opinion seems to imply that Miller’s elbow issue is rather serious.

Miller, 26, hasn’t been able to catch a break since joining the Diamondbacks. Last year’s nightmarish season included a finger injury stemming from mechanical woes and a brief demotion to the minor leagues. In 20 starts in the majors last year, Miller posted an ugly 6.15 ERA. This year, his ERA is a mediocre 4.09 over four starts.

The Diamondbacks called up Zack Godley to take Miller’s spot in the rotation. There was some speculation that it would be Archie Bradley instead, but he’s been working out of the bullpen.