Towards the end of May, Jason Heyward was not the fan favorite in Atlanta like he was when he first arrived back in 2010.
We all remember his introduction to the major leagues: a home run on a 2-2 fastball from Carlos Zambrano.
After a rough sophomore season in 2011, the 22-year-old was under enough pressure to erupt the world's largest volcano. An injury-plagued campaign, combined with poor numbers and a dwindling attitude near the end, had fans calling for his head. He hit .227/.319/.389 with 14 home runs and 42 RBI last season.
Now, at the All-Star break in 2012, everything has changed. The Heyward everyone raved about in the late 2009 season, and most of the 2010 season, is back and better than ever. The outfielder is hitting .272 with 14 home runs and 41 RBI in 82 games at the halfway mark. The numbers match his 2011 total.
The first half was a solid one, but May was the worst month for him.
He has one person to thank for his recent stretch. The biggest hint is that he's three years younger than him. His name is Bryce Harper.
The 19-year-old all-star gave the Braves outfielder a reality check on May 26 when he hustled to second base with a double because Heyward didn't throw the ball back in time. He was booed off the field by the Atlanta faithful. It was his worst moment as a big league player.
The New Jersey native turned his season around in June. He hit .348 with six home runs and 15 RBI. The adjustments he made were critical with his run.
Heyward stepped back in the batters box, allowing him to extend his hands and drive the ball. He also started taking the ball to the opposite field with more frequency. In similar circumstances last season, he would have rolled over to second base.
He has made significant strides. This will allow him to be more consistent at the plate.
One of the biggest improvements seen from the Henry County High School (GA) product this season is his average against left-handed pitching. In 2011, he hit .192 overall against southpaws and .160 against starters. This season, he is hitting .241 overall and .264 against starters.
When Harper came to the big leagues a couple months ago, he showed the passion for the game that Heyward lacked at the time. The Nationals outfielder re-energized and made him a better player. The excuse that Jason is still young went out the door this year with the two phenoms Harper and Mike Trout.
Heyward needed to show that he was still among the group of bright young stars in the majors. He is currently reminding everyone why he was heralded as a rookie and a first-round pick.