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.

Howie Kendrick to undergo an MRI after exiting game with a serious leg injury

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Update, 7:49 PM ET: The Nationals placed Howie Kendrick on the 10-day disabled list with a right Achilles injury. In a corresponding move, right-hander Jefry Rodriguez was recalled from Double-A Potomac.

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Nationals left fielder Howie Kendrick was removed from the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader against the Dodgers after injuring his right leg. In the eighth inning, Kendrick tracked a Max Muncy sac fly to the wall, but landed strangely on his right leg and fell to the ground. Unable to put weight on it, he was forced to exit the field on a cart and was sent to undergo an MRI soon afterward, the results of which have yet to be revealed.

While the Nationals have not specified the nature or severity of Kendrick’s injury, Martinez revealed that it’s located in the “lower part” of the outfielder’s leg and appears to be quite severe. He’ll likely be placed on the 10-day disabled list in the next couple of days, though the recovery process could take even longer.

Prior to the incident, Kendrick was off to a hot start this season. Entering Saturday’s doubleheader, he carried a batting line of .302/.331/.477 with 18 extra-base hits and an .808 OPS in 157 plate appearances. He went 1-for-3 on Saturday with a base hit in the seventh inning. Andrew Stevenson subbed in for Kendrick following the injury and has been tabbed to start in left field for the second game of the doubleheader at 8:05 PM ET.