LAKELAND, Fla. -- After a wayward fastball thrown by Mets southpaw Jon Niese broke Jason Heyward's jaw late last season, there was some initial concern that the Braves right fielder might struggle to find comfort against left-handed pitchers.
But Tigers left-hander Duane Below now stands among those who have seen the traumatic event did not have much of a lingering effect.
Heyward's first home run of the Grapefruit League season proved to be an impressive one. During the third inning of Thursday's 5-2 loss to the Tigers, Heyward deposited Below's fastball on top of the roof of the batting cages located approximately 30 feet beyond the right-field wall at Joker Marchant Stadium.
As Heyward's solo shot sailed high above the right-field foul pole, it conjured memories of 2010, when he dented this same roof with more of a line-drive shot off Max Scherzer. That shot fueled the hype that surrounded the then 20-year-old outfielder, who homered on the first swing of his career approximately one month later.
"I remember that one," Heyward said. "It hasn't been that many years yet. Today, I hit that one well. It would have gone out on any day. I did my job right there."
Heyward was also pleased with the solid contact he made while grounding out against left-handed reliever Ian Krol in the fifth inning. His comfort against southpaws is aided by the presence of a face guard he plans to continue wearing on his batting helmet.
"It's good because you're going to see lefties every day, especially late in the game," Heyward said. "It's good to feel comfortable and good to have at-bats against them, to where I am at least making them throw pitches over the plate and get me out that way."
Heyward was sidelined for nearly a month after his jaw was broken by the fastball thrown by Niese. From the time he returned to Atlanta's lineup for the regular season's final 10 games and through the National League Division Series against the Dodgers, he went 4-for-19 with a home run against left-handed pitchers. The home run was hit against Paco Rodriguez in a 13-6 Game 4 loss.
"I don't have any reservations about last year's broken jaw," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "But we saw that right away."
Laird day to day with lower back strain
LAKELAND, Fla. -- Gerald Laird was in obvious pain as he attempted to pack his bag before leaving Joker Marchant Stadium on Thursday afternoon. But he hopes to return to action after resting his back over the next few days.
Laird exited Thursday's 5-2 loss to the Tigers after experiencing back spasms in the first inning. The Braves termed the injury a lower back strain and gave him a day-to-day status.
"It happened before, a couple years ago," Laird said. "Once it releases, you usually don't have any problems with it."
Laird felt a twinge in his back during a swing that produced a groundout to end the top of the first inning. He manned his position behind the plate during the bottom half of the inning and then was replaced by Jose Yepez.
"I felt it on my swing," Laird said. "I should have probably said something, but I didn't want to throw a kid [Yepez] in the game right there. So I tried to get through that first inning of catching. But I told myself, 'It's not worth it.'"
Laird realized it was time to leave the game when he was unable to drop to block a low pitch that went through his legs and led to the only run the Tigers scored against Kris Medlen in his two innings of work.
"Usually I block that ball, because usually I get down," Laird said. "I was just late getting down. That's when I said, 'I shouldn't be back here.' That's an easy ball to block."
With the regular season still a little more than a month away, Laird will be given as much time as he needs to attempt to make sure this minor ailment does not prove to be a lingering problem throughout the regular season.
The Braves are aiming for Evan Gattis to serve as their starting catcher in approximately 105 games this year. This plan sets the stage for Laird to receive more playing time than many other backup catchers.
• While he is the only logical choice, the Braves have not yet announced Medlen as their Opening Day starter. Gonzalez did say if the current plan stays in place, three different Braves pitchers will start openers during the regular season's first week. Along with opening in Milwaukee, the Braves will be present for the Nationals' home opener before heading to Atlanta for their own.
• Right-handed reliever Gus Schlosser has not been mentioned among the top candidates fighting to win one of the available spots in Atlanta's bullpen. But Schlosser drew rave reviews after tossing a scoreless inning against the Tigers on Thursday.
• Gene Garber and Steve Avery are currently serving as guest Spring Training instructors. Other former Braves scheduled to fill this role include Dale Murphy (March 8-15) Ryan Klesko (March 10-16) and Tom Glavine (March 21-25). Phil Niekro will also make an appearance, but his dates have not yet been set.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.