Three things I learned at spring training

 By Stan McNeal

Sporting News’ Stan McNeal visited Braves and Astros camps Friday:

Heyward does it again

Jason Heyward continues to keep auto insurers busy. In batting practice Friday, the 20-year-old uber-prospect hit another car with one of his mammoth home runs. This was quite a precision shot. Heyward dodged the protective nets in right field and landed this homer smack in the middle of a rearview mirror of Braves’ media relations director Brad Hainje. The mirror was smashed, but no harm was done to the part that contains the mirror.

Heyward — some are calling him the "Say Hey Kid" — has been the hit of spring training, as much for his batting practice shows as for an overall game that is far ahead of most his age. He has walked nine times and struck out only three. He is hitting .440, runs the bases well, plays good defense and goes about his business like a veteran.

So how many more cars will he have to bruise before the Braves announce he will open the season as their right fielder?

"He’s left me some messages," Braves general manager Frank Wren said, "But we haven’t talked yet."

The decision will not hinge on finances, Wren said. "It’s about being competitive," he insisted.

Finances, however, are worth considering. It is about service time. After six seasons, players are eligible to become free agents. If Heyward is in the majors all of 2010, that counts as one season. If the Braves send him to the minors for just a couple of weeks, however, Heyward then would not accrue the 172 days needed for a full season of service time and would have to wait another year to become a free agent.

If you think that is forecasting a bit too far ahead, Wren won’t disagree. "Who’s smart enough to know what’s going to happen in the next six years?" he asked.

Who’s smart enough to know what will happen in the next six weeks? As Wren pointed out, "What if we send him down and he hits .150 because he’s trying so hard to get up here. How would we bring him up then?"

Jair Jurrjens is getting closer

The Braves’ 24-year-old ace says he is "80 percent," no make it "90 percent" ready to start the season. He has made two spring training starts — the first was rained out — since being delayed by shoulder pain in February. The feeling in his shoulder was more than scary. "It was pain," he said. "I couldn’t play catch at 60 feet."

He still feels occasional "tightness" but is not expected to miss any more starts, in spring or the regular season.

Lance Berkman is, too, slowly

Six days after left knee surgery, Astros first baseman Lance Berkman is looking like he is a month away from returning. He was walking gingerly through the Astros’ clubhouse Friday morning — but not limping. Doctors want him to walk normally, even if that means walking very slowly. "I want to pick up the pace and drag it," he said.

The knee remains swollen and he has been limited to a little work on the stationary bike. "Range of motion stuff," he said.

Berkman said the swelling went down noticeably in the first 24 hours after surgery but has not subsided any further in the past three or four days.

He said surgery was the right option because he didn’t want to be limited throughout the season.

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

 By Stan McNeal

Sporting News’ Stan McNeal visited Braves and Astros camps Friday:

Heyward does it again

Jason Heyward continues to keep auto insurers busy. In batting practice Friday, the 20-year-old uber-prospect hit another car with one of his mammoth home runs. This was quite a precision shot. Heyward dodged the protective nets in right field and landed this homer smack in the middle of a rearview mirror of Braves’ media relations director Brad Hainje. The mirror was smashed, but no harm was done to the part that contains the mirror.

Heyward — some are calling him the "Say Hey Kid" — has been the hit of spring training, as much for his batting practice shows as for an overall game that is far ahead of most his age. He has walked nine times and struck out only three. He is hitting .440, runs the bases well, plays good defense and goes about his business like a veteran.

So how many more cars will he have to bruise before the Braves announce he will open the season as their right fielder?

"He’s left me some messages," Braves general manager Frank Wren said, "But we haven’t talked yet."

The decision will not hinge on finances, Wren said. "It’s about being competitive," he insisted.

Finances, however, are worth considering. It is about service time. After six seasons, players are eligible to become free agents. If Heyward is in the majors all of 2010, that counts as one season. If the Braves send him to the minors for just a couple of weeks, however, Heyward then would not accrue the 172 days needed for a full season of service time and would have to wait another year to become a free agent.

If you think that is forecasting a bit too far ahead, Wren won’t disagree. "Who’s smart enough to know what’s going to happen in the next six years?" he asked.

Who’s smart enough to know what will happen in the next six weeks? As Wren pointed out, "What if we send him down and he hits .150 because he’s trying so hard to get up here. How would we bring him up then?"

Jair Jurrjens is getting closer

The Braves’ 24-year-old ace says he is "80 percent," no make it "90 percent" ready to start the season. He has made two spring training starts — the first was rained out — since being delayed by shoulder pain in February. The feeling in his shoulder was more than scary. "It was pain," he said. "I couldn’t play catch at 60 feet."

He still feels occasional "tightness" but is not expected to miss any more starts, in spring or the regular season.

Lance Berkman is, too, slowly

Six days after left knee surgery, Astros first baseman Lance Berkman is looking like he is a month away from returning. He was walking gingerly through the Astros’ clubhouse Friday morning — but not limping. Doctors want him to walk normally, even if that means walking very slowly. "I want to pick up the pace and drag it," he said.

The knee remains swollen and he has been limited to a little work on the stationary bike. "Range of motion stuff," he said.

Berkman said the swelling went down noticeably in the first 24 hours after surgery but has not subsided any further in the past three or four days.

He said surgery was the right option because he didn’t want to be limited throughout the season.

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

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