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.

Shelby Miller likely to make season debut on Monday

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The Diamondbacks announced that the club optioned starter Matt Koch to Triple-A Reno after Tuesday night’s game. According to Nick Piecoro of Azcentral Sports, Shelby Miller will likely be activated from the 60-day disabled list to start against the Marlins on Monday.

Miller, 27, has been out since late April of 2017 after undergoing and rehabilitating from Tommy John surgery. The right-hander has had a rough time since coming to the Diamondbacks in a trade with the Braves, starting 24 games since the beginning of the 2016 season with a 5.78 ERA and a 90/54 K/BB ratio in 123 innings.

That trade, consummated on December 9, 2015, is certainly one the D-Backs would like to take back. They received Miller and Gabe Speier from the Braves and gave up Ender Inciarte, Dansby Swanson, and Aaron Blair.

Koch, 27, made 12 starts and one relief appearance this season, compiling a 4.40 ERA with a 38/17 K/BB ratio in 71 2/3 innings.