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Heyward, Jackson named April's top rookies

Heyward, Jackson named April's top rookies

Thanks to eye-popping offensive performances in their first month as Major League players, Braves right fielder Jason Heyward and Tigers center fielder Austin Jackson each received the Rookie of the Month Award -- presented by Gillette -- for their respective leagues on Tuesday.

No rookie this season -- or, perhaps, this decade -- carried as much hype as Heyward. And through April, no rookie in the National League shined brighter.

"It's nice to be recognized," Heyward said. "I'm appreciative of it. It's an honor to be a part of Major League Baseball and be part of this team. My teammates have a lot to do with it. They're great. They help me have fun and just go out and enjoy myself playing this game."

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The 20-year-old super-phenom hit a monstrous home run in his first big league at-bat, against Carlos Zambrano on Opening Day at Turner Field, and pretty much rolled from there. He finished the first month of the season batting just .240 (18-for-75), but he led all rookies with six homers and 19 RBIs in April. The Georgia native was just the second Braves rookie to make his Major League debut in the Opening Day starting lineup since 1981 -- joining Jordan Schafer, who did it last year.

The lefty power hitter also collected five multihit games -- including a three-hit performance against the Giants on April 10 -- to go along with five multi-RBI contests in April.

"I contributed to the team, and that's big," said Heyward. "That's all I can ask for from myself, and that's all anybody can ask for from a teammate or a guy in this clubhouse."

With the based loaded and the Braves trailing the Rockies by a run in the ninth inning on April 18, Heyward ripped a two-out, two-run single to give his team a walk-off victory. Then, two days later, he forced extra innings with the Phillies with a game-tying solo homer in the ninth.

Heyward also had his struggles, as he went just 1-for-20 from April 21-27. But he's gone 7-for-14 since then and is now batting .272 with seven homers and 23 RBIs, which is tied for fourth in the NL.

"In one month, to be able to do what he has done has been very impressive, but I think it's gotten to the point that you kind of expect that this is who he is," Braves starter Derek Lowe said recently. "He's going to hit 25 home runs and drive in 100 runs in his first year, which is very impressive for everybody. But I think that's the kind of player he expects to be."

Jackson, meanwhile, batted .364 while leading all Major League rookies in at-bats (99), runs (20), hits (36) and stolen bases (five) in the first month. The 23-year-old also paced American League rookies with six doubles, two triples and 10 walks while adding a homer and seven RBIs and posting a .422 on-base percentage.

The right-handed-hitting speedster collected 12 multihit games -- tying a Major League best for April -- and finished the month with a five-hit explosion against the Angels on Friday, making him the first Tigers rookie to compile five hits in a game since Curtis Granderson -- the man he has replaced in the batting order and on the field -- did it on Sept. 18, 2005, also against the Angels.

Jackson, now sporting a Major League-leading .377 batting average, started his Major League career by hitting safely in 12 of his first 13 games. After failing to reach base in just one game in April, he has reached base safely in 20 consecutive games and counting.

"It's hard to argue with what he's done," manager Jim Leyland said recently. "He's leading the league in hits. He's hitting .364 [through April], got a couple of stolen bases and playing the outfield great. It's pretty hard to do better than he's done the first month."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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