Braves right fielder Jason Heyward is recovering from a broken jaw but still made the trip to Washington D.C. this week. (Reuters)
WASHINGTON — When the Braves packed up and headed for Washington Sunday evening, both Jason Heyward and Tim Hudson went along.
Heyward is going to continue his workouts and take batting practice with the team as he recovers from his broken jaw. Hudson, who is out for the season with a broken right ankle, just got out of his walking boot this week and wanted to be a part of this final road trip, when the Braves have a chance to clinch the National League East.
Hudson and Brian McCann are the only Braves on the roster who were on the 2005 team that won the Braves’ last division title. Their previous two trips to the playoffs — in 2010 and 2012 — came via the wild card.
“I was going to go on a couple trips before, but I wasn’t out of my boot yet,” Hudson said. “It was just kind of a pain in the butt with the boot. It actually works out good. I officially got out of the boot this week and it’s our last trip.”
Hudson still has a surgical screw holding two bones in place while his ligament heals. He’s scheduled to have it removed in late October.
“The rehab will really start up after I get that screw out,” Hudson said. “That’s when most of it will start happening. I’m pretty limited with what I can do right now.”
Heyward’s limitations are less and less by the day. He was cleared to start hitting last week and had been taking some swings indoors before hitting on the field for the first time in Braves batting practice Friday and Saturday. Heyward will continue hitting with the team in Washington.
“Maybe we’ll set up early hitting for him,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said, “and see what transpires after that.”
The Braves started instructional league activity Monday at their complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., but don’t start playing games until Sept. 23. The Braves could send Heyward to Florida when they head to Chicago following the three-game series against the Nationals. Once there, Heyward could face live pitching from minor leaguers in simulated games.
“Whenever he feels good about his body, then we’ll do whatever he wants to do,” Gonzalez said.
Heyward said they haven’t yet discussed when he might start playing in games. He can use this period to get used to batting with a helmet with a protective guard extending over the lower right side of his face. Heyward said it hasn’t been an issue.
“I’m just focused on getting ready to play,” Heyward said. “I’m not thinking about the helmet, mouthpiece, anything.”
R. JOHNSON UPDATE: In addition to resting some pitchers and getting Heyward back in action, the Braves could use time the next two weeks to get veteran pinch hitter Reed Johnson going again.
Johnson was activated from the disabled list last Monday in Miami after missing the previous six weeks with Achilles tendinitis. He has yet to appear in a game.
Johnson’s biggest issue has been running and he’s made some recent strides in that department. He had ramped up his running when the Braves were in St. Louis and had to shut down again. But he said the seven to 10 days’ rest before he started running again in Miami have done him some good.
“I’m probably like 75, 80 percent, somewhere in there,” Johnson said. “So I feel like I’m getting there.”
Johnson is the Braves’ best pinch hitter. Despite all the time missed, he’s still leading the National League with a .355 (11-for-31) batting average as a pinch hitter and is tied for second in the NL in pinch hits. He led the majors with 18 pinch hits last year.
Rookie Joey Terdoslavich has been filling that role recently and has gained a new appreciation for how difficult the job is. He is on an 0-for-17 streak, including 0-for-9 as a pinch hitter.
“It’s not easy,” Johnson said. “When you first come up, you can do it because you’ve got some at-bats under your belt in the minor leagues. But when you sit for a week or so at a time and you’re getting sporadic at-bats, it becomes a little bit tougher. You’ve just got to figure out how to manage that. It’s kind of new territory for him, so hopefully, I can relieve him of some of those duties.”
Johnson, a veteran of 11 seasons, has never seen action in a playoff game. He was on the Braves’ playoff roster for last year’s one-game wildcard playoff but did not get in the game. He can help his cause by showing he can run well enough to play some outfield as well.
“Hopefully by the last week of the season or so, this thing will be resolved to the point where I’m out there able to play defense at a high level,” Johnson said. “And that way, (I can get) three or four at-bats a day rather than just one. That way, I can find myself a better rhythm.”