ATLANTA - When Jason Heyward went down with a fractured jaw from a Jon Niese pitch on Aug. 21, everyone obviously knew it would take time to return.
Heyward ended up missing 29 days, totaling 26 games, with surgery to his jaw. It took him a while to go back to solid foods. The first time he was able to eat Chick-fil-A after the surgery, he said he cried with joy.
Similar to Heyward working toward eating solid foods, the dynamic outfielder has slowly worked toward getting his timing back at the plate. Some members of the Braves and their fans may have cried with joy when he experienced a career night at the plate on Thursday.
Heyward went 5 for 5 with three doubles and a home run against the Phillies, setting a career high in hits and extra-base hits in a game.
The five-hit game signaled a possible return for a hitter the Braves sorely need at the top of the lineup against a tough Dodgers rotation. Since that game, Heyward has one hit in three games, but he also has four walks. The five-hit game signaled a return of timing. The four walks signaled a return of his eye.
"The first few games back, I was trying to be careful, but the aggressiveness is coming back swing-wise, attacking the ball in the zone," Heyward said. "I'm just trying to get good pitches to hit and square them up."
It also led to a confirmation of sorts from manager Fredi Gonzalez.
"If he is not 100 percent, he's pretty darn close."
I caught Heyward's second on-field batting practice since the surgery a few weeks ago, and it was obvious his timing was off. He wasn't able to square the ball up consistently, hitting grounders and fly balls more often than line drives.
I then caught Heyward's batting practice before Thursday's game, and it was a complete 180. He was drilling line drives consistently to all parts of the field, and he was staying on top of the ball and squaring it better.
Those few rounds of batting practice led me to believe Heyward was back - or nearly back - and I wrote as much on Twitter before the game. He made me look a lot better than I anticipated.
Batting practice isn't the know-all, telling sign of a hitter's success. Hitters can have excellent BP sessions but struggle in-game. But when a hitter is returning from a lay-off and is working at gaining his timing, it can be a sign of how he is progressing. This proved true of Heyward.
Heyward will face two left-handed starters in the first three games of the NLDS in Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu, and possibly more lefties from the Dodgers bullpen. In his career, Heyward is hitting .232/.312/.377 with 18 home runs in 698 plate appearances against lefties. Those numbers against righties are .273/.370/.476 with 55 home runs in 1,472 plate appearances.
Heyward is obviously a better hitter against right-handed pitching, but if he must face numerous left-handers, at least he has timing and his eye back on his side.