ATLANTA -- The Braves received the news they had expected on Saturday when MRI results showed Ender Inciarte will likely be sidelined for at least a month and possibly the remainder of the regular season.
Inciarte is expected to miss 4-6 weeks with a Grade 2 hamstring strain sustained during Friday night’s loss to the Dodgers. Ronald Acuna Jr. will now serve as the everyday center fielder for the Braves, who currently have four key position players -- Inciarte, right fielder Nick Markakis, shortstop Dansby Swanson and left fielder Austin Riley -- on the injured list.
“There’s no way I should think I’m not coming back this year,” Inciarte said. “I’ve got to be a hundred percent positive I’m coming back, and this team is going to be in a good position and we’re going to compete and do well in October.”
As the Braves carried a 4 1/2-game lead in the National League East into Saturday’s game against the Dodgers, they could at least be encouraged that Swanson (out since July 24 with a bruised right heel) and Riley (out since Aug. 7 with a partially torn right knee ligament) have improved to the point that both could begin playing Minor League rehab games within the next week.
But while there’s a chance Swanson and Riley are activated by the end of the month, Inciarte faces uncertainty.
“I don’t know if you can put a timeframe on it really,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “Everybody’s body will heal differently. We’ll just see.”
While Inciarte is also attempting to maintain an optimistic outlook, he knows this hamstring strain is likely more significant than the ones that sidelined him for approximately a month during both the 2015 and ‘16 seasons.
“I just want to do whatever I can to get back to being a hundred percent and help the team,” Inciarte said. “I was feeling good.”
Inciarte began this season in frustrating fashion and then missed two months with a back strain. He returned shortly after the All-Star break and spent the past few weeks proving to be a key offensive contributor, hitting .318 with a .991 OPS over his past 19 games. But the Braves will most miss the superb defense the three-time Gold Glove winner provided on a daily basis.
Acuna served as the Braves’ everyday center fielder when Inciarte was sidelined earlier this season. The 21-year-old five-tool star showed defensive improvement as the summer progressed.
“The thing I tell him is: ‘Don’t try to make miracles happen, because that’s when you start making mistakes,’” Inciarte said. “I always tell him to not dive in certain situations where the runner can take an extra base. Small things like that are going to help him mature and be more consistent in the outfield.”