Morton might eventually find a groove and the bullpen may once again prove more reliable than it was during the 8-4 loss to the Blue Jays on Thursday afternoon at Truist Park. But the key to finding what has been elusive consistency is a healthy Acuña.
So, needless to say, Braves manager Brian Snitker was relieved to learn X-rays on Acuña’s left ankle were negative. This positive development hadn’t seemed likely when Atlanta's outfielder initially fell to the ground after attempting to record an infield single in the seventh.
Acuña landed awkwardly and his left leg appeared to lock after he crossed the first-base bag. The 23-year-old hopped into the outfield grass and fell to the ground, seemingly in great discomfort. But after being briefly evaluated, he stood, shook his left leg and walked to the dugout without assistance.
“He was trying like hell to beat the throw and probably hit the bag wrong,” Snitker said. “Those are scary moments for players, especially when they’ve got the torque and force he’s running with. So, I’m just glad the X-rays were negative.”
This was certainly the best news the Braves could have received on a day when they were swept by a Blue Jays club that went 6-0 in the season series. A.J. Minter blew an eighth-inning lead in Tuesday’s series opener and was unable to protect a one-run advantage in the eighth inning of the finale.
Consequently, the Braves are now 14-4 when leading after seven innings this year. They entered this year having gone 100-5 in such games since the start of 2019.
“All the [relievers] are throwing well,” Smith said. “We’re working hard every day to get better. It just doesn’t go our way sometimes.”
Top right-handed setup man Chris Martin came off the injured list on Wednesday and tossed a scoreless seventh on Thursday. His return was supposed to help fix the bullpen’s woes. But Minter issued a leadoff walk to Teoscar Hernández and then surrendered Cavan Biggio’s game-tying double in the eighth.
Before Tuesday, Minter had gone 10 consecutive appearances without allowing an earned run. Likewise, Smith entered Thursday having allowed three hits and one run over his past 10 innings, dating back to April 12.
But as fate would have it, Smith allowed hits to five of the six Blue Jays he faced during Thursday’s decisive four-run ninth. He entered the game having allowed seven hits to the 57 batters he’d faced this season.
But that’s the way things are currently going for the Braves, who still haven’t moved their winning percentage above .500 this year. Even the seemingly reliable Morton has stumbled while completing less than five innings in each of his past two starts. He surrendered three consecutive two-out singles in this latest outing.
“If he was not throwing the ball well, I wouldn't have any hope,” Snitker said. “But he’s throwing the ball too good.”
When Acuña sparked Atlanta’s two-run first inning with his MLB-leading 12th homer, it looked like this might be a good day for the Braves. But, a negative X-ray ended up being one of the day’s few positives.