Acuña not fretting slow start: 'I feel good'

March 10th, 2020

NORTH PORT, Fla. -- Maintaining that he still must prove himself and all he's accomplished during his first two stellar big league seasons, said this year's Spring Training feels like the one he experienced in 2018, when he was on the cusp of making his Major League debut.

"I'd say the only difference is back then I was hitting, and right now, I'm not hitting very well," Acuña said through an interpreter before going 1-for-2 with a single and a walk in a 3-0 win over the Astros on Tuesday afternoon.

Acuña has maintained his sense of humor and fun-loving approach to the game. There certainly wasn't reason to worry as he entered Tuesday having gone 2-for-24 with 11 strikeouts through the nine Grapefruit League games. Acuña went 4-for-20 with one homer and nine strikeouts through the first nine Spring Training games he played last year.

Safe to say, that stretch experienced through a span of meaningless late-February and early-March games was long forgotten by the time Acuña finished last year three stolen bases shy of recording what would have been just the fifth 40-40 season in MLB history.

"I've always been a slow starter and I don't really know why," Acuña said. "It's not something I put much mind to, because I know what I'm capable of and I know what can happen during the regular season. So I just keep my head strong and keep a positive attitude."

Braves manager Brian Snitker certainly hasn't lost any sleep over the fact Acuña hasn't realized productive results while simply getting himself ready for the regular season, which will not begin before he gets 20-plus more at-bats over the next two weeks.

Snitker didn't remember the start of last year's Spring Training, but he remembers how his talented young outfielder looked in the days leading up to the National League Division Series after having missed the regular season's last five days with a mild left hip tightness.

"If it did you any good to worry, then he'd probably be hitting three homers every day," Snitker said. "I look at it the same way as when he was injured and then before the playoffs, we had him do live [batting practices] and he couldn't put the ball in play. Then when we got to the playoffs and he was an animal."

Acuña's created instant excitement on Tuesday, when he walked to begin the first and then stole second before racing home on Ozzie Albies' single to right-center field. This trip around the bases served as a reminder of the dynamic talents possessed by the All-Star outfielder, who hit 41 homers and stole 37 bases last year. Acuña joined Mike Trout as the only players to record a 30-30 season before their age-22 season.

"I feel good," Acuña said. "That's the most important thing. The results haven't been there, but baseball is a game of highs and lows."

As Acuña has hit .115 (3-for-26) and struck out 12 times through 10 games, his new outfield partner Marcell Ozuna has hit .095 (2-for-21) with 10 strikeouts. Ozuna's struggles might be more bothersome given the decline he experienced over the past two seasons.

But as the Braves set their sights on October, they certainly aren't going to be worried about results generated during the first half of March.

"We obviously give each other a hard time and we joke around a lot," Acuña said. "But this isn't something you put too much mind to. Obviously, what is important is what happens from March 26 [Opening Day] and on [from there]."