Though it could be a challenge to live up to the lofty expectations that have followed him during his quick rise to the major leagues, Atlanta Braves rookie Jason Heyward(notes) got off to a very promising start.
Heyward and the Braves look to build on a strong performance at the plate on opening day as they face the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday night at Turner Field.
Braves manager Bobby Cox said during spring training that the sound off Heyward’s bat was similar to the sound off Hank Aaron’s. While it will take a very long time for Heyward to prove he belongs in the same class as the Hall of Famer, he didn’t disappoint in his debut Monday.
Minutes after catching the ceremonial first pitch from Aaron, Heyward hit a three-run homer in his first major league at-bat to spark the Braves to a 16-5 win over the Cubs. Heyward also had a run-scoring single in the eighth and finished 2 for 5 with four RBIs.
Heyward won the starting job in right field despite playing only 50 games above Class A while shooting through the minors. He was named baseball’s top prospect by Baseball America after hitting .323 with 17 homers and 63 RBIs at three minor league stops in 2009, and was put on the roster by the Braves just last Saturday.
“Jason had a spectacular day, really,” Cox said. “He’ll have his struggles, probably, like any other 20-year-old in the big leagues, but he’s a very talented kid. And when he’s not hitting, he’s going to help us in the outfield. He’s a very gifted athlete.”
While Cox had to be thrilled with his team’s opening day performance, Cubs manager Lou Piniella had much less to be excited about. Carlos Zambrano(notes) gave up eight runs while getting only four outs, Chicago pitchers walked eight and Cubs batters totaled five hits.
“It was something of an embarrassing loss,” Piniella said. “Never did I anticipate we’d give up 16 runs on opening day, not in my wildest dreams.”
The Cubs will try to bounce back against Braves starter Jair Jurrjens(notes), who went 14-10 last season while ranking third in the NL with a 2.60 ERA. The right-hander, who went 4-0 with a 0.97 ERA over his final five starts of 2009, gave up four runs over six innings to lose his only previous start against Chicago 4-2 on July 6.
The Cubs will counter with Ryan Dempster(notes), who is looking for a comeback year after a disappointing 2009. The veteran right-hander went 11-9 with a 3.65 ERA last season after going 17-6 with a 2.96 ERA in ’08.
Dempster, 1-1 with a 2.30 ERA in two starts against the Braves over the last two seasons, is looking for his first career win in Atlanta. He is 0-8 with a 5.10 ERA in 15 games - nine starts - at Turner Field.