By Carroll Rogers The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
NEW YORK — The Atlanta Braves’ short two-game series in New York wasn’t quite short enough. The team watched their dynamic young right fielder Jason Heyward get struck in the right jaw by a Jonathon Niese fastball in the sixth inning Wednesday, giving the Braves another horrific-looking injury at Citi Field in their past two trips here.
X-rays revealed that Heyward’s jaw is fractured in two places, and he’s expected to miss four to six weeks. Heyward will have surgery Thursday in Atlanta.
Almost a month ago, July 24, when the Braves were last here, Tim Hudson fractured his ankle on a gruesome play when Eric Young Jr. stepped on his leg crossing first base.
Oddly enough, the Braves won both of those games, including Wednesday, 4-1, on a three-run, 10th-inning home run by Chris Johnson. The Braves had rallied to even the score 1-1 two batters after Heyward gingerly walked off the field under his own power.
Heyward was taken to a Manhattan-area hospital and stayed there with Braves trainer Jeff Porter to undergo X-rays and further evaluation as the Braves headed for St. Louis. Heyward had been a key catalyst during the Braves’ recent 20-4 run. He was batting .349 (30-for-86) in the past 22 games since Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez moved him into the leadoff spot, with 24 runs and 15 RBIs.
When asked immediately after the game if the team was concerned about a broken jaw, a concussion, or both, Gonzalez said all of the above.
“I’m sure when you get hit in the head everything comes into play, teeth, jaw, concussion,” Gonzalez said. “Hopefully the least of the three, maybe some teeth instead of a broken jaw or concussion, but we’ll let the doctors put him through the paces there at the hospital and keep our fingers crossed.” Gonzalez said Heyward never lost consciousness, but was spitting blood from the inside of his mouth. The count was 1-2 when Heyward was hit by a 90 mph fastball in the face near the right ear flap of his helmet.
“It was tough,” Mets left-hander Niese told reporters afterward. “I wanted to elevate a fastball right there, and then it didn’t slip out of my hands, but it kind of ran in on him. Obviously no intent, but I just felt bad. It’s every pitcher and every hitter’s worst nightmare. Just hope he’s OK.” Heyward’s grandparents attended Wednesday’s game and joined Heyward in the Braves’ clubhouse shortly after he was hit.
The Braves, who had been shut out in the game to that point against Niese, were able to regroup and string together back-to-back hits by Andrelton Simmons and Freddie Freeman to even the score 1-1.
Those two helped set up the Braves’ 10th-inning rally as well with back-to-back two-out singles. Freeman beat out a ground ball back to the pitcher Scott Rice on a bang-bang play at first base. Johnson then sent his 10th homer of the year into the left-field seats on the first pitch of the day from reliever Greg Burke.
Johnson had been 0-for-4 with strikeouts in each of his previous three at-bats. He had tossed his helmet in frustration when he struck out in the eighth.
“Niese carved me up pretty good,” said Johnson, who said reliever Gonzalez Germen then did more of the same. “It was a tough day until that last at-bat. I was trying to learn from those last four at-bats, just try to shorten my swing a little bit and get a good pitch to hit. I was going out of the zone. I was long on pitches that were in the zone all day. I was just trying to stay with it, that’s just grinding, that’s all.” As Johnson made his way around the bases, Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy got into it with first-base umpire Jerry Layne, and both he and Mets manager Terry Collins were ultimately ejected.
Alex Wood had hung well with Niese, holding the Mets to one run in six innings and allowed his only run on a Josh Satin solo homer. If anybody has gotten used to Wood and his unorthodox motion, it’s the Mets, who faced him for the third time of his seven career major league starts. But Wood was the one who looked as if he had made the adjustment, after giving up five earned runs in 7 1/3 innings over his first two starts against the Mets.
“Of all the starts I’ve had up here this year, in terms of my stuff, it was probably my worse one,” said Wood, who took a no-decision but lowered his ERA to 2.50. “But I thought I made some pitches when I needed to. These kind of days are the ones that test you and show your true colors when you battle through.” Jordan Walden, Luis Avilan and Craig Kimbrel combined to shut down the Mets for the final four innings. Kimbrel earned his 40th save of the season, joining John Smoltz as the only Braves pitchers to reach 40 or more saves three times.