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Heyward's broken jaw big blow to Braves

ST. LOUIS — The Braves have had to overcome one major injury after another this season. Jason Heyward is just the latest, but potentially the most troublesome.

Heyward, who had thrived after taking over the leadoff spot, had surgery on Thursday to repair two fractures in his jaw and is expected to miss most of the rest of the regular season.

With the Braves enjoying a commanding lead in the National League East, the team’s trip to the postseason doesn’t appear to be in jeopardy. But Heyward needs to play in at least a few September games to get ready for the playoffs.

The good news of Heyward’s surgery in Atlanta was that he didn’t have his jaw wired shut. That should better allow him to maintain his weight.

But Heyward, who had a plates put in the right side of jaw and his chin, was slow to regain his strength after an emergency appendectomy in late April, missing almost four weeks.

More significantly, the right fielder will also have to erase the memory of getting hit by a Jon Niese fastball against the Mets in New York on Wednesday and resist the urge to bail out on inside pitches from left-handers.

With the minor league season ending in early September, Heyward will have to try to regain a comfort level at the plate during instructional league games in Florida next month.

Heyward hit .345 with a .408 on-base percentage while the Braves went 19-4 since moving the left-handed hitter to leadoff — a trouble spot for the Braves this season.

“It’s a big loss,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “But maybe somebody will pick up the slack a little bit. We’ve got a lot of candidates.”

Jordan Schafer will be the first to fill the hole as the Braves go to a four-man outfield rotation, with the left-handed hitter joining righties Justin Upton, B.J. Upton and Evan Gattis.

Reed Johnson would also be a candidate against lefties, but he is on the disabled list with a sore Achilles.

The Braves have the best record in the majors despite losing six players to season-ending surgery.

Tim Hudson was also hurt in New York, the veteran pitcher broke his right ankle on a play at first base against the Mets in July.

Lost for the season in addition to Hudson were relievers Jonny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty and Cristhian Martinez, and infielders Ramiro Pena and Tyler Pastornicky.

“We’ve faced a lot of adversity injury-wise all year long, and the guys have picked it up each time,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said. “We just have to do it again.”

Notes: Elliott Johnson, claimed off waivers from Kansas City, started at second base in the opener of a four-game series against the Cardinals in St. Louis on Thursday night. He was hitting just .179 with the Royals. … Second baseman Dan Uggla, who had laser eye surgery, is taking batting practice and is scheduled to begin a brief minor league rehab assignment with the Gwinnett Braves on Monday. … To make room for Johnson, the Braves sent Phil Gosselin back to Gwinnett.