Monday, April 6, 2015

Hasten Jason! Heyward thrills in 3-hit Cards debut

On Sunday night, five years to the date after he scripted a storybook start by homering in his first Major League at-bat, Jason Heywardmade the second debut of his career.
He may have flexed his power potential for the Braves in that first one, but his first regular-season game with the Cardinals served as a more complete showcase of the player he has become. To put a twist on a line once infamously spoken about the football team in this town -- he was who the Cards hoped he would be.
"Just an exciting player," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said after Heyward went 3-for-5 with a stolen base and a run scored in St. Louis' 3-0 win over the Cubs on Opening Night at Wrigley Field. "Just playing with an edge. That's something he brings."
Of course, it's just the first episode of a 162-game courtship that the Cardinals hope leads to a lengthy relationship. But whatever the long-term may hold, the Cards are bubbling with optimism about what could become of the player they valued so much that they parted with two young pitchers for only one year of guaranteed control.
Fitting into the two-hole that he'll occupy until further notice, Heyward showcased his extra-base potential as he joined Aaron Miles and Dick Allen as the only players to double twice in their Cardinals debut. Heyward added a single in his third at-bat against Cubs left-hander Jon Lester, showed off his speed with a stolen base shortly after and provided a steady defensive presence in right field. His catch on Chris Coghlan's ball to the wall closedAdam Wainwright's six-inning scoreless effort.
"I think tonight you saw exactly what kind of player he is," said leadoff hitterMatt Carpenter, who twice got on base ahead of Heyward. "You see that on a really good team with a really good lineup, he can just do his thing. He doesn't have to carry anybody. He can just do his part. Tonight was a good example of that."
As timing would have it, not only did Heyward's two team debuts fall on the same date, they also came against the same opponent. It was former Cubs ace Carlos Zambrano whom he took deep that afternoon in Atlanta.
And while the one-game sample size won't hush questions about whether Heyward can improve his production against lefties, it was at least a start. A career .221/.301/.349 batter against southpaws, Heyward had his first three-hit game off a lefty since 2012 -- when he also did so against Lester.
Heyward was also a part of a top-third of an order than combined for seven hits and contributed to all three runs. Heyward, never one to view himself as a leadoff hitter, even as he filled the spot with Atlanta, hasn't been shy in expressing how comfortable he is with his lineup placement.
"Selfishly, I'm a lucky guy to be able to hit between those two," Heyward said, referring to Carpenter and No. 3 hitter Matt Holliday. "[Holliday] can do damage, and Carp, he sees so many pitches and has good ABs. I'm going to be kind of spoiled in between them."

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