Braves outfielder Jason Heyward hit 30 doubles and 27 home runs last season, both career bests. Early in spring training, though, the slugger is working on playing small ball. In the fifth inning of today’s game against the Washington Nationals, Heyward laid down a bunt, reaching first base safely while moving Reed Johnson to second base.
Both Heyward and manager Fredi Gonzalez expect it to be a part of the right fielder’s game going forward. Via AJC’s Michael Cunningham:
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez’s said Heyward can present a threat with bunts.
“He’s got to work on that,” Gonzalez said. “Last year (opponents) really shifted him. They over-shifted at times. He’s got to really make them respect that bunt. With his speed, he gets on base, it could be (like) a double (with steals). It could be extra bases.”
“If I’m going to be in the two hole, eventually I’m going to have to get (bunts) down,” Heyward said. “Down here is the time to get that work in and build the confidence of doing it during the season.”
Gonzalez is right about opposing defenses. A majority of Heyward’s ground ball outs went to the right side of the infield last year. With the threat of a bunt, opposing defenses will have to play honest by shifting less heavily to the right side, opening up the field to the left-hander.
Orioles closer Zach Britton is likely done for the remainder of the 2017 season after receiving a stem cell injection in his left knee, Peter Schmuck and Jon Meoli of the Baltimore Sun report. Britton has been battling knee problems for most of the season.
The Orioles are still technically in the AL Wild Card race, entering play Thursday 5.5 games behind the Twins for the second Wild Card slot. With only nine games remaining, however, the 73-80 Orioles are likely being realistic about their chances and not taking any unnecessary risks with Britton.
Britton, 29, put up a 2.89 ERA with 15 saves and a 29/18 K/BB ratio in 37 1/3 innings this season. He will be eligible for arbitration for the fourth and final time this offseason.
The Dodgers staved off a four-game series sweep at the hands of the Phillies, winning 5-4 on Thursday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park. The win reduced their magic number in the NL West to one, meaning that a win against the Giants at home or a Diamondbacks loss to the Marlins on Friday will result in clinching the division.
Of course, the Dodgers winning and the Diamondbacks losing hasn’t exactly been a sure thing lately. The D-Backs rattled off a 13-game winning streak from August 24 through September 6. The Dodgers lost 11 games in a row from September 2-11 and were on a four-game slide before Thursday’s win.
The Dodgers will send Rich Hill to the mound to start opposite Jeff Samardzija. The Diamondbacks have Zack Greinke opposing Adam Conley.