VIERA, Fla. -- Along with helping Jason Heyward make some mechanical adjustments, Braves hitting coach Greg Walker has persuaded the young outfielder to take an aggressive approach to the plate while continuing to trust his feel for the strike zone.
"We want Jason to be ready to hit and attack fastball strikes," Walker said. "That doesn't mean that we want him in swing mode or swinging at every first pitch. He's always had a good eye. So he'll make good decisions. We want him to get ready to hit."
Walker's desire for Heyward to develop a more aggressive approach is not restricted to what he does early in the count. The 22-year-old outfielder swung at 24 percent of the first-pitch deliveries he saw during his disappointing 2011 season and at 20 percent of the first-pitch deliveries he saw during his impressive 2010 rookie season.
According to Fangraphs.com, Heyward swung at 39.4 percent of the pitches he saw in 2010 and 44.7 percent of the pitches he saw in 2011.
"We don't want to turn him into an early swinger, but we do want him to get ready to hit," Walker said.
Heyward swung at the first two pitches he saw during Wednesday's 3-2, 10-inning win over the Nationals and then battled back from an 0-2 count before directing John Lannan's 2-2 fastball back up the middle for a first-inning single. His patience was displayed in the fourth inning, when he gained a 2-0 count and then grounded out on a full-count fastball.
With a sixth-inning strikeout, Heyward concluded a 1-for-3 performance and found his Grapefruit League batting average at .208 (11-for-53). He has recorded just one hit in 11 at-bats since notching a two-hit game against the Mets on Saturday.
Walker has been encouraged by many of Heyward's recent plate appearances, including the one he produced on Tuesday, when the wind knocked down his long drive to right field against Justin Verlander.
"I looked at [Tuesday] as a pretty good day," Walker said. "He's moving in the right direction. He feels good about it. That's a big battle right there. He's being more aggressive."
Parraz making strong case for roster spot
VIERA, Fla. -- Jordan Parraz thought he had gained the break he needed when the Astros traded him to the Royals after the 2008 season. But three years later, the 27-year-old outfielder still finds himself hoping to finally get a call to the Majors.
With the .393 (11-for-28) batting average he has produced in Grapefruit League games, Parraz has put himself in position to win an Opening Day roster spot with the Braves as a backup outfielder. After seeing the wind knock down what would have been a walk-off grand slam against the Cardinals on Monday, he delivered a game-tying, two-out single in the ninth inning of Wednesday's 3-2, 10-inning win over the Nationals.
Parraz can play each of the three outfield positions, and he is more multidimensional from an offensive and defensive perspective than the speedy duo of Luis Durango and Jose Constanza, who are also vying for this roster spot.
"So far, he has swung the bat well," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He has some pop. Everything is about timing and opportunity. But yeah, I like what I see. He runs the bases well. He's not going to steal you 30 bases, but he's OK. He throws above average."
Parraz believes he finally found comfort at the plate last year as he hit .289 with an .802 OPS for the Yankees' Triple-A affiliate.
"Last year, I had a pretty good season," Parraz said. "I tried a lot of things with my swing. I feel like last year, I figured out myself a lot more than I ever have the years before. So now I've been using the same swing for the past year and a half. It's the first time I've kept an approach this long. I feel like I'm only now harnessing my ability at the plate."
Gonzalez evolving into regular-season mode
VIERA, Fla. -- With Opening Day just two weeks away, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez plans to begin treating many of his remaining exhibition games like he would a regular-season game.
Gonzalez plans to use most of his regulars for at least seven innings in Thursday's game against the Marlins, Friday's game against the Mets and Sunday's game against the Astros. He will continue alternating starts at shortstop with Tyler Pastornicky and Andrelton Simmons.
"I always divide Spring Training into thirds," Gonzalez said. "The first 10 games is just get your at-bats and get your timing down. You don't want to put bunts and hit-and-runs on during the first three at-bats of the spring. The second 10, you kind of let them look for signs like we've been doing. Then the next 10, you try to play it as close as you would during the season to a certain extent."
Gonzalez said he will not tax his relievers during this stretch. But as long as they are fresh, he plans to use them in some of the same situations they will encounter during the regular season.
Pastornicky impressing, gaining confidence
VIERA, Fla. -- Tyler Pastornicky made the most of the opportunity he gained only because the Braves forced extra innings by scoring a run with two outs in the ninth inning during Wednesday's 3-2, 10-inning win over the Nationals. Inserted to pinch-hit in the 10th inning, Pastornicky battled through a long at-bat and delivered a key single that put runners on the corners with no outs.
"For me, Tyler Pastornicky had the best at-bat that I've seen in camp," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He couldn't get the [sacrifice] bunt down. He battled and battled and got the guy over to third base on a base hit."
Pastornicky went from first base to third base when Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa booted a ground ball. He then scored on what proved to be a decisive sacrifice fly.
Along with impressing his manager, Pastornicky might have regained some of the confidence that was tested during the early portion of this month. The 22-year-old infielder came to camp targeted to begin this season as Atlanta's starting shortstop. He now finds himself battling Andrelton Simmons for that role.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.