5/31/2014 12:51 A.M. ET
Atypical leadoff man Heyward handling top spot
By Mark Bowman and Teddy Cahill / MLB.com
MIAMI -- Since struggling through this season's first week, Jason Heyward has proven why the Braves are confident that he will continue to be a productive catalyst at the top of their lineup.
Those who simply look at the fact that Heyward ranks ninth among all National League leadoff men with a .330 on-base percentage might still be clamoring for the Braves to find a different option. But those who take into account that he has hit .264 with a .348 on-base percentage in the 44 games played dating back to April 9, realize a large sample size has provided manager Fredi Gonzalez reason to continue putting his athletic right fielder in the first spot of his lineup.
"He's our best option and he's a good option," Gonzalez said. "I don't know if we have another option on our club as good as him."
Heyward batted .206 with a .297 on-base percentage in the 34 games he played through May 10. In the 17 games that have followed entering Friday, he has batted .318 with a .400 on-base percentage and three home runs, two of which have been hit this week.
"I see him continuing to do that," Gonzalez said. "He's about as steady as they come when he's healthy. He'll keep getting a hit here and there and getting on base. If you make a mistake, he'll run you out of the ballpark. By the end of the year, he'll be at .285 with his normal numbers."
Simmons earns callup to beleaguered Braves 'pen
MIAMI -- Shae Simmons has spent the past couple of months drawing comparisons to Craig Kimbrel. Now the right-handed reliever will have a chance to share a bullpen with Atlanta's dominant closer.
The Braves announced Simmons has been promoted from Double-A Mississippi to get his first crack at the Major League level. He is expected to be in Atlanta's bullpen for Saturday afternoon's game against the Marlins.
Left-handed reliever Ian Thomas was optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett to make room on the 25-man roster for Simmons. The Braves will have to make another move to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for their newest reliever.
Simmons, ranked 17th on the Braves' Top 20 Prospects list, has posted an 0.78 ERA and recorded 30 strikeouts while issuing just six walks in 23 innings for Double-A Mississippi this year. The hard-throwing right-handed reliever has limited opponents to a .183 batting average. Right-handed hitters have hit just .163 (8-for-49) against him.
While Simmons is likely targeted to stay in Atlanta for the remainder of this season, the need to call him up to the Majors has been hastened by the bullpen struggles experienced this week. A few of the late-inning collapses have highlighted how much the relief corps misses right-handed setup man Jordan Walden, who has been sidelined since May 4 with a strained left hamstring.
The Braves have been encouraged with the progress Walden has made while throwing off a mound at the club's Spring Training facility this week. But he is not expected to return for at least another week, and it remains to be seen how stable his leg proves to be when subjected to his violent delivery on a regular basis.
Simmons made a quick Cinderella rise to the Majors. The Braves selected him out of Southeast Missouri State in the 22nd round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft.
La Stella learns from miscues, remains in lineup
MIAMI -- Those who have had an opportunity to watch Tommy La Stella advance through the Minor Leagues over the past few years were certainly not surprised to see him commit a pair of costly miscues while playing his second game of his Major League career in front of a raucous crowd at Fenway Park on Thursday night.
Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez was certainly aware of the defensive limitations La Stella brought when he got his first call to the Majors this week. But at the same time, the manager hopes that Thursday's mistakes prove to be just part of the learning process the young second baseman will experience over the next few weeks.
Thus, La Stella was back in the lineup for Friday night's series opener against the Marlins.
"All of the sudden you ask the kid to come up from Triple-A to play second base in Boston, and there is a couple plays and then you sit him on the bench the next day?" Gonzalez said. "I think it could ruin him. It's something that happens. He'll keep working at it and get better."
La Stella displayed his offensive potential by recording a pair of hits in Wednesday night's Major League debut. But while going hitless in Thursday night's 4-3 loss, he erred on a couple plays that helped the Red Sox stage their third comeback win of the week over the Braves.
"The guys were great about it," La Stella said. "A few of the guys came over and said, 'Don't worry about it, you're going to help us win a lot of games, keep your head up. I definitely appreciated that."
La Stella's first miscue was a product of the limited time he has spent sharing the middle infield with shortstop Andrelton Simmons. With two on and none out, the rookie hesitantly moved toward second base, thinking Simmons might field Dustin Pedroia's chopper at the bag and then throw to first base in attempt to turn a double play. But the ball was out of the rangy shortstop's reach and fell to the ground when a flat-footed La Stella fumbled it.
"I need to make the aggressive mistake there. I've got to attack," La Stella said. "I've got to get the ball. If he cuts me off, he cuts me off and steps on the bag himself. There's really no excuse. ... [Simmons] is the best defender on the planet. If he doesn't get to a ball, it's either my ball or it's a base hit up the middle."
Pedroia's chopper was generously ruled an infield single in the game-tying eighth. The Red Sox drew a pair of walks against Craig Kimbrel in the ninth and then won the game when La Stella was unable to secure third baseman Chris Johnson's throw after it hit his glove. Jackie Bradley Jr. raced home with the winning run as the ball rolled toward the outfield.
"I just need to catch that ball or do whatever I have to do to keep it in the infield," La Stella said. "I got a glove on it. I've got to make that play."
Braves prospect Hursh throws seven-inning shutout
Right-hander Jason Hursh, the Braves' No. 3 prospect, threw a four-hit shutout Friday and Double-A Mississippi defeated Pensacola, 7-0, in Game 1 of a doubleheader. The game was shortened to seven innings because of the twin bill.
Hursh struck out one batter and limited the Blue Wahoos to one walk. He needed just 83 pitches to match the longest start of his young career.
With the victory, Hursh improved to 4-4 with a 3.68 ERA in 11 starts this season. He has struck out 34 batters and walked 16 in 58 2/3 innings.
The Braves selected Hursh with the 31st overall pick in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft. After signing last summer, Hursh was sent to Class A Rome. He posted an 0.67 ERA in 27 innings in the South Atlantic League, and the Braves challenged him with an assignment to Mississippi this spring to begin his first full professional season.
Though Friday turned out to be a one-sided affair, it was expected to be a pitchers' duel between Hursh and Michael Lorenzen, the Reds' No. 4 prospect. The Braves scored seven runs off Lorenzen and chased the right-hander with one out in the third inning.
Catcher Braeden Schlehuber hit a three-run home run off Lorenzen to lead the Braves' offense. He finished the game 1-for-2 with four RBIs.