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.
The magic number to clinch a wild card spot is still 1, but the Mets have at least secured a wild card tie after defeating the Phillies 5-1 on Friday night.
Jay Bruce powered the offensive drive, going 3-for-4 with a pair of RBI singles and his 33rd home run of the season, ripped from an Alec Asher fastball in the seventh inning. On the mound, right-hander Robert Gsellman limited the Phillies to seven hits and one run over six frames, striking out seven batters in his eighth appearance of the year. Behind him, a cadre of Mets relievers turned out three scoreless innings to preserve the lead and anchor the Mets in the wild card standings.
The Cardinals aren’t out of the race quite yet, and can still force a tiebreaker with the Mets if they manage to win the remainder of their games this weekend and the Mets lose the rest of theirs. Any other scenario will ensure the Mets’ exclusive rights to a wild card spot next week. While a wild card clinch is unlikely to happen tonight, with St. Louis leading Pittsburgh 7-0 through 7.5 innings and just entering a rain delay, it remains a distinct possibility over these next two days.
In a season that boasts the likes of Max Scherzer (he of the 20-strikeout masterpiece) and Clayton Kershaw (he of nine separate games with at least 10 strikeouts), there hasn’t been anyone who’s done exactly what Carlos Rodon did this week.
During Friday’s series opener against the Twins, Rodon retired seven consecutive batters via strikeout. His streak — and the beginnings of a perfect game, if you can call it that after just 2 ⅓ frames — ended on a Logan Schafer double that found right field well before Rodon managed to put up two strikes. With seven consecutive strikeouts, Rodon became the first American League pitcher to strike out seven batters to start a game since right-hander Joe Cowley did it for the Sox back in 1986. Had Schafer whiffed on a couple more fastballs, Rodon would have tied Mets’ starter Jacob deGrom for most strikeouts to start a game in major league history.
Not only did Rodon manage to quell the first seven batters in Minnesota’s lineup, but he extended his strikeout streak to 10 consecutive batters dating back through his last start against the Cleveland Indians. Per MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger, the last major league pitcher to do so was reliever Eric Gagne, who accomplished the feat for the 2003 Dodgers during his first and only Cy Young Award-winning season.
Any way you slice it, this is an impressive look: