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07/16/10 12:15 AM ET

Heyward's return fits like a glove in win

Rookie stars on defense, escapes injury after hitting wall

ATLANTA -- Playing for the first time in nearly three full weeks, Jason Heyward managed to command the spotlight on a hitless night against the Brewers on Thursday.

What the Braves phenom didn't do at the plate was compensated for by a pair of key defensive plays, including one that momentarily created great concern.

After going hitless in four at-bats of a 2-1 win over the Brewers, Heyward was happy to report that he had no problems with the jammed left thumb that had sidelined him for the past three weeks and bothered him for nearly seven weeks.

The Braves were even happier to know that Heyward avoided what could have been a much more serious injury when he ran into the right-field wall while robbing Casey McGehee of what would have been at least a double in the fourth inning.

"Luckily, we had luck on our side," Braves starting pitcher Jair Jurrjens said. "Right now, we don't need anybody else going on the [disabled list]."

After smacking face first into the partially-padded portion of the wall below the right-field foul pole, Heyward secured the ball with his right hand and fell to the ground. As he remained on his back for less than a minute, Braves manager Bobby Cox feared that his rookie All-Star had suffered a significant injury.

"I didn't feel dizzy," Heyward said. "It happened so quick that I couldn't even tell you what happened. I took a minute to catch my breath."

Once Braves assistant trainer Jim Lovell sprinted to the right-field corner, Heyward was ready to prove that he was OK.

"Before they started asking questions, I was like, 'My name is Jason Heyward. I'm the right fielder for the Atlanta Braves,' " Heyward said.

After the game, Heyward still wasn't sure which part of his body incurred the greatest impact. The fact that there was a little bit of blood on his chest led him to believe that he may have simply got the wind knocked out of him.

"It just jarred his head and body a little bit," Cox said. "He'll be alright."

Just a few hours earlier after being evaluated one more time by the Braves' medical staff, Heyward was cleared to return to action. He passed all the strength tests conducted on his thumb and provided the club no reason that he needed to shake off some rust with at least one Minor League rehab game.

Heyward, who had been on the disabled list since June 30, took batting practice with Triple-A Gwinnett last Saturday and then flew to Anaheim the next day to enjoy the All-Star experience he had earned when he was elected to serve as one of the National League's starting outfielders.

While Heyward wasn't able to play, he took batting practice with his NL teammates on Monday and Tuesday. With each passing session, he felt stronger and more capable of moving away from some of the bad habits that he developed while attempting to play through the pain caused by the thumb ailment that he incurred with a head-first slide on May 14.

Heyward will not wear any protective gear while at the plate. But to lessen the likelihood of aggravating the thumb with another head-first slide, he plans to wear a thumb guard when he is running the bases.

"I wouldn't have come back without everything feeling the way that it does," Heyward said. "I'm looking forward to coming back and helping my team during the rest of the season."

While going hitless in his four at-bats against the Brewers, Heyward showed a more aggressive swing than was on display in June, when his left-handed swing lacked the power that is generated by his top hand.

"It felt great," Heyward said. "I was pleased with the way everything felt."

Further proving Cox's belief that his young outfielder can greatly influence a game without producing anything with his bat, Heyward also made a strong throw on Thursday that denied McGehee's attempt to advance from first to third base on Jim Edmonds' single with no outs in the second inning.

"It was great to be back out there with my teammates," Heyward said. "This is awesome. This is what I live for."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.