ATLANTA -- Based on his own previous experience, former Braves manager Bobby Cox said Jason Heyward might spend an entire career battling the effects of the thumb injury he suffered in May.

It's far too early to tell if that will be the case. But with the start of Spring Training three weeks away, the 21-year-old Braves outfielder still has not regained the same flexibility he had before he jammed his thumb during a headfirst slide on May 14.

"I don't have any pain in it, but I still don't have the full range of motion in it," Heyward said. "I still can't bend it anywhere close to where it was before. I don't know if I ever will be able to do that. But I know it's not holding me back from hitting."

While his thumb might not bend to where it did before the injury occurred, Heyward has been able to take batting practice about three times a week this month in a pain-free manner.

"I'm able to work hard, and I feel like it's working for me," Heyward said.

Despite the fact that he spent just six weeks in the Majors before his thumb began bothering him, Heyward produced an impressive rookie season. In 142 games, he batted .277 with 18 homers, 72 RBIs, a .393 on-base percentage and a .849 OPS.

Through his first 46 games, Heyward batted .301 with 10 homers and a Major League-best 1.017 OPS. But after watching Heyward hit .172 with one homer and 33 strikeouts over his next 99 at-bats, the Braves realized that he needed to be placed on the disabled list to rest the injured thumb.

After the All-Star break, Heyward hit .302 with a .419 on-base percentage and an .875 OPS. He regained his dominant form during a 26-game stretch that began Aug. 22, when he hit .418 with six homers and a 1.216 OPS. But he hit just .173 in his final 12 regular-season games and struck out in eight of his 16 postseason at-bats.