Wednesday afternoon's Braves-Mets game featured a scary moment when Atlanta right fielder Jason Heyward was hit in the right jaw by a pitch from New York's Jon Niese. X-rays at a local hospital revealed a fractured jaw that will sideline the 24-year-old outfielder for four to six weeks, a rough blow for the Braves but one that leaves open the possibility he can return for the postseason.
The pitch that hit Heyward, which came with two outs in the sixth inning of a game the Mets led 1-0, was a 90 mph fastball that rode up and in, and appeared to at least partially catch the earflap of Heyward's batting helmet. A split second in either direction might have meant a glancing blow off the shoulder or a more serious blow to the temple or eye, but as it was, the consequences were significant enough.
Upon being hit, Heyward slumped to the ground, his fall prevented by Mets catcher John Buck. He stayed down for several minutes but appeared to remain conscious as he was tended to by Braves' head trainer, Jeff Porter. He walked off the field under his own power, as you can see in the MLB.com video. Here's a GIF of the pitch itself, via Cork Gaines of Business Insider:
Heyward was checked out by the Mets team doctors, then taken to a local hospital for X-rays and concussion testing. Jordan Schafer entered the game as a pinch-runner for Heyward, scoring the game-tying run. The Braves eventually won 4-1 thanks to a three-run 10th-inning homer by Chris Johnson off Greg Burke.
The injury comes just as Heyward was playing his best ball of the season. After batting just .146/.290/.243 through the end of May while missing three weeks due to an appendectomy, and .227/.324/.371 with seven homers through the first half, he had hit .317/.405/.554 with six homers in 116 plate appearances in the second half. He had particularly taken to the leadoff role, which he moved into July 27. Since then, the Braves are 19-4, and have built a 15 1/2 game lead over the Nationals in the NL East. The early guess is Schafer (.290/.380/.421 with three homers) and Evan Gattis (.243/.301/.478 with 15 homers) will fill in, with Justin Upton switching from left field to right field when the latter plays, as was the case during Heyward's earlier absence. With rosters due to expand September 1, the Braves won't need to worry too much about when exactly to activate Heyward . A six-week absence would bring him back October 2, just in time for the postseason.