Acuña looking more like MVP self after slow start

Slugger steals three bases, reaches base four times in Braves' win over Mets

April 10th, 2024

ATLANTA -- As raced around the bases in the Braves’ 6-5 win over the Mets on Tuesday night at Truist Park, he seemed to erase thoughts that his slow start was a product of his previously sore right knee.

Acuña created reminders of his 2023 MVP season as he tallied a pair of hits, reached safely in each of his first four plate appearances and stole three bases. His leadoff single in Atlanta’s three-run third inning was the first of six straight singles recorded against New York starter Adrian Houser.

“I haven’t gotten off to the start I’ve wanted in the season,” Acuña said through an interpreter. “But it’s a long season, and I have a feeling things are going to start going my way.”

Acuña enjoyed many nights like this last year, when he became the first player to ever hit 40-plus homers and tally 70-plus stolen bases in a season. But he had been pretty quiet through the first nine games this year. He entered Tuesday hitting .222 with no homers, one stolen base and a .611 OPS.

A sixth-inning infield single capped a productive night for Acuña, who has four multi-hit performances through his first 10 games. He is now hitting .256 with a .691 OPS.

“I’m sure he had fun getting on there and being able to run around,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “That was really good for him. That was a really good sign because at some point in time, he’s going to break out, too. So that was nice to see.”

There wasn’t any reason to panic about numbers created by a sample size of just nine games and 42 plate appearances. But it was easy to understand if Braves fans were getting anxious while looking forward to seeing the reigning National League MVP begin to do his thing again.

Acuña made it clear his slow start has had nothing to do with the knee soreness that forced him to rest for a couple weeks during Spring Training. He said he hasn’t felt any discomfort since the first week of March.

Acuña got hit by a pitch to begin the bottom of the first, stole second and reached third on a throwing error before jogging home on Ozzie Albies’ RBI double. The Braves right fielder lined a single to left to begin the key third and then walked with one out in the fourth. This positioned him to steal both second and third base.

Acuña led MLB with a franchise-record 73 stolen bases last year, but this was just the second time he stole three bases in a game. The other occurrence was against the Astros on April 22, 2023.

“I was just waiting to get on base because it felt like I hadn’t been on base in forever,” Acuña said when asked if his knee had made him less aggressive on the bases through the season’s previous nine games.

Reynaldo López appreciated the timing of the breakout game. The right-hander helped key Atlanta’s victory with six scoreless innings against New York.

“I think [Acuña’s] tremendous,” López said. “Everyone saw it. Despite the wet, cold and rainy weather, he’s able to steal second and third. I think he’s just a great player. The most important thing is he’s on our side.”

Seeing Acuña race around the bases a few times on Monday likely silenced doubts about his health.

He was bothered by irritation around his right meniscus after being involved in a long rundown against the Twins on Feb. 29. The Braves sent him to California to be evaluated by Dr. Neal ElAttrache, who had surgically repaired this same knee after Acuña tore his ACL in 2021. ElAttrache confirmed the outfielder just needed a short period of rest.

Acuña didn’t homer over his 11 games in the Grapefruit League, and he’s gone homerless through the beginning of the regular season. But Tuesday seemed to indicate it’s just a matter of time before he also quickly builds that total.

“As soon as I get in that groove, I feel like I’m going to take off running,” Acuña said.