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.

Yankees re-sign Jon Niese to a minor league deal

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The Yankees have re-signed pitcher Jon Niese to a minor league contract, George A. King III of the New York Post reports. Niese was released on Sunday, but he’ll stick around and provide rotation depth for the Yankees.

Niese had knee surgery last August and got a late start to spring training as a result. In six spring appearances lasting an inning each, the lefty gave up three earned runs on five hits and a walk with five strikeouts.

Niese, a veteran of nine seasons, put up an aggregate 5.50 ERA with an 88/47 K/BB ratio in 121 innings last season between the Pirates and Mets.

Orioles acquire Alec Asher from the Phillies

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The Phillies announced on Tuesday that the club traded pitcher Alec Asher to the Orioles for a player to be named later.

Asher, 25, was the victim of a roster crunch. He was not going to make the 25-man roster and the starting rotation at Triple-A Lehigh Valley was already full. The Phillies acquired him from the Rangers in the July 2015 Cole Hamels trade.

Asher had good results in 27 2/3 innings in the big leagues last year, posting a 2.28 ERA with a 13/4 K/BB ratio. While it didn’t show in those stats, the right-hander sometimes struggles with command and he doesn’t miss bats often enough to make up for it. The Orioles, however, are happy to add some pitching depth.