Atlanta Braves right fielder Jason Heyward (22) in the dugout against the New York Mets while on the DL last week.
MIAMI — Less than three weeks after suffering a broken jaw when he was hit in the face by a 90 mph fastball, Braves outfielder Jason Heyward had the restrictive braces and bands removed from his mouth Monday and is preparing to begin taking batting practice when the Braves return home on Friday.
Braves general manager Frank Wren said Heyward was fitted for a mouth guard that he’ll wear during baseball activities, which for the last week have included taking some swings off a tee and doing some conditioning.
Wren said the two plates Heyward had surgically-inserted to stabilize the two fractures in his jaw will remain permanently.
Now Heyward is able to eat regularly, though Wren said he’s done a good job of maintaining his weight, despite his limitations, with some help from the Braves chef.
The Braves had thought there was a chance Heyward would join the team in Miami to continue his workouts, but Monday’s procedure to remove the bands required anesthesia, leaving Heyward groggy Monday night, so they didn’t see a need for the travel. He’ll re-join the team Friday when the Braves open a weekend series against the Padres.
“He’s literally and figuratively chomping at the bit,” Wren said.
Ideally, Heyward gets some at-bats at some point during instructional league, which begins next Monday in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., and then returns for some work at the major league level over the final week of September. But Wren said the Braves won’t have an idea of the timetable for another week.
“I think we were cautiously optimistic that he would get back to baseball activity sometime in September,” Wren said. “It’s progressing as we hoped, and I know progressing as he hoped, because I think everybody has the goal for him — and I know he does — to try to get back for October. So we’ll just continue to see how it progresses.”
WALDEN THROWING BULLPEN: A week after cutting a bullpen session short after five pitches, reliever Jordan Walden is ready to give it another go. He tested his sore groin with some running and catching Monday, said it felt a lot better and got back on the mound for another bullpen Tuesday.
“I was just trying to rush it, get back on the mound and it kind of set me back a couple times,” Walden said. “So I’m trying to stay away from getting any setbacks, but right now I feel confident enough, so we’ll see tomorrow.”
Walden hasn’t pitched since Aug. 21 in New York and strained his groin running in the outfield before a game the following series in St. Louis.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said it would likely take at least another bullpen in addition to Tuesday’s, if all goes well, before he’d be ready to return to game action.
BETHANCOURT CALL UP: September offers a chance for the Braves to get a glimpse of some of their top prospects for the future and now that chance belongs to catcher Christian Bethancourt, who joined the team Monday after getting his first major-league call-up.
With Brian McCann likely headed for free agency, Bethancourt is a candidate to join Evan Gattis on the Braves roster as one of their top two catchers next season. An undeniable defensive talent, Bethancourt spent this season in Double-A Mississippi working on his consistency at the plate and he responded by hitting .277 (99-for-358) with 12 home runs and 45 RBIs.
“We think the world of him defensively,” Gonzalez said. “He had a nice year offensively in Double-A and their season just got over with. Bring him up here and let him get some experience.”
Bethancourt becomes the fourth catcher on the Braves roster and Gonzalez didn’t promise there would be much opportunity for playing time. But they wanted him up for the experience.
“If we can plug him in some place, I’d like to do that. But we’ve got to take care of some other business first,” Gonzalez said. “But at the very least, he can be around the big league atmosphere and experience the guys and that kind of stuff.”
Bethancourt got the news Sunday night on the bus ride back to Pearl, Miss., after the Mississippi Braves lost 15-0 to the Mobile Pelicans and were knocked out of the Southern League playoffs. Bethancourt said Mississippi manager Aaron Holbert asked him to stand up address his teammates about the season, so he shared a few words of motivation and then went to sit down.
“I was walking back to my seat and he said, ‘Hey, one more thing. Tell the guys you’re going to the majors,’” Bethancourt said. “I was just shocked. I didn’t know what to say. I asked him, ‘Are you serious?’ And he’s like, ‘Yeah, you’re going to the majors. You’re leaving tomorrow.’”
Bethancourt, who turns 22 on Sept. 21, was selected to two consecutive Futures Games as one of the top prospects in the minor leagues. He’s an athletic catcher with a dynamic arm but the Braves wanted him to continue to progress offensively. This was his second season in Double-A, after he hit .243 in 71 games of an injury-riddled 2012 season.
“The main thing this year for me was to try to be consistent every game, try to be consistent with my discipline at the plate, try to hit better pitches,” said Bethancourt, who went 5-for-13 in the playoff series against Mobile.