Heyward now a threat on basepaths, too

Heyward now a threat on basepaths, too

Heyward now a threat on basepaths, too
ATLANTA -- After his much discussed sophomore slump, right fielder Jason Heyward has rebounded to become one of the Braves' best hitters this season. Despite a slow start to the season, Heyward ranks among the club leaders in most offensive categories, from advanced stats including WAR and on-base plus slugging to more traditional numbers such as home runs and stolen bases.

After 100 games, Heyward has 15 home runs and 15 stolen bases, giving him a chance to become the Braves' first 25-25 player since third baseman Chipper Jones hit 45 home runs and stole 25 bases in 1999.

Heyward has always been known as a five-tool player, but he swiped just 20 bases in his first two Major League seasons combined. Heyward has worked to improve on stealing bases, but he didn't want to call himself a good basestealer yet.

"I've only got 15, but I'm working on it and working to get better at it," Heyward said. "It's something that's definitely helpful. It takes some pressure off guys and some of the grind off their ABs."

Five of Heyward's stolen bases have come in 23 games in July, including his first career two-steal game, which came in the Braves' 9-4 loss to the Giants on July 18.

Heyward said because he's hitting third in the lineup, he isn't necessarily looking to steal bases, but the slugger wants to take advantage of the opportunities he gets.

"With our lineup, if I'm on first base, I'm in scoring position," Heyward said. "If there's ever an opportunity to take a base, I'm going to take it."

While Heyward is being aggressive on the basepaths, Jones said he is being more patient at the plate. Jones said some of Heyward's struggles last year stemmed from his propensity to expand the strike zone too far inside, a problem that has been corrected this year.

Heyward has already taken 41 walks, just 10 fewer than he took in 128 games last year. His batting average has climbed to .270, almost back to the .277 he hit when he finished second in National League Rookie of the Year Award voting in 2010.

"He's got the all-around game," Jones said. "He can hit the ball in the gaps and run, he can hit the ball out of the ballpark, we all know that. He can help us manufacture runs, steal bases, and as we get him to cut down his strikeouts, we're going to see his numbers go up."