ASG door stays open for injured Heyward
Braves OK with outfielder starting if thumb improves enough
ATLANTA -- There is still a chance that Jason Heyward will be able to take advantage of the opportunity to be in the National League's starting lineup for the July 13 All-Star Game at Angel Stadium.
Braves general manager Frank Wren and manager Bobby Cox said they are comfortable with the possibility. But before a decision is made, Heyward will have to prove that his injured left thumb has improved while being immobilized in a cast since Tuesday.
A member of the Braves' medical staff was scheduled to remove the cast early Sunday evening. If the deep bone bruise that has hampered Heyward for nearly two months is no longer providing the same level of discomfort that was present last week, the 20-year-old outfielder will work toward being cleared to take batting practice with the Braves in New York next weekend.
Before being cleared to swing a bat, Heyward will spend three days in Atlanta attempting to strengthen the thumb that he originally injured on May 14, and then repeatedly aggravated until being placed on the disabled list last week.
"If everything feels good, they'll leave the cast off and start physical therapy the next three days," Wren said. "Then he would join us in New York, and if everything goes well there, he'll go to Anaheim as an official All-Star. If it doesn't and he needs a little more time or he has a little bit of pain and needs a few more days, which might just be the three days of the All-Star break, then he'll go to show his appreciation for getting in, but he won't participate."
Recognizing the significance of Heyward's election as a 20-year-old rookie, Wren and other club officials addressed the potential ramifications of clearing the young outfielder to participate in the Midsummer Classic.
While team doctors have said Heyward wouldn't be in jeopardy of aggravating the injury if he proves he is healthy later this week, Wren made it clear that the club won't jeopardize the second half of the season if they don't feel their phenom is ready to play.
"If all goes well, I'm free to play," Heyward said. "It's all on me and all depends on how I respond to treatment."
If Heyward is cleared to take batting practice next weekend and responds well, he could simply continue this exercise before each of the three games the Braves are scheduled to play against the Mets at Citi Field next weekend. Or there's a chance he could play a couple of Minor League rehab games on Saturday and Sunday before traveling to Anaheim to play in the game.
"There's lots of things that could happen," Wren said.
Heyward is one of five Braves players who were selected or elected to participate in this year's All-Star Game. Whether he is playing or simply soaking in the excitement surrounding the festivities, he will be joined by teammates Brian McCann, Martin Prado, Omar Infante and Tim Hudson.
Braves closer Billy Wagner could also gain a roster spot through the Final Vote Balloting process, which will be staged on MLB.com and mobile voting that is exclusive to Sprint, Nextel and Boost subscribers.
Heyward is the second-youngest player to be elected by the fans to start an All-Star Game. He is two months and 12 days younger than Ken Griffey Jr., who became the youngest electee in 1990.
If he is able to play, Heyward would be the first non-Japanese rookie outfielder to start an All-Star Game since Minnesota's Tony Oliva in 1964. The Braves outfielder would also be the second-youngest NL position player to start an All-Star Game, ranking only behind Frank Robinson, who made his first All-Star start as a 20-year-old outfielder in 1956.
Heyward entered this season as the game's top prospect, and when he drilled a three-run homer with the first swing of his career on Opening Day at Turner Field, he drew even more focus on the national scene. When Heyward was hitting .301 with 10 homers and a Major League-best 1.017 OPS through May 30, he was the top NL Rookie of the Year candidate and a potential MVP candidate.
But while sliding head-first into third base on May 14, Heyward suffered the thumb injury that created discomfort and caused him to alter the mechanics of his swing.
Consequently, he hit just .172 with one homer and a .507 OPS in the 25 games he played before the Braves placed him on the DL last week.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.