“I don’t think anybody feels like he’s not going to be full boar and ready to go on Thursday,” manager Brian Snitker said before Wednesday's series finale against the Royals at Kauffman Stadium.
Acuña was diagnosed with a minor left groin strain when he was evaluated on Wednesday. The 21-year-old outfielder is healthy enough to continue hitting and throwing. But the Braves do not want to risk a more significant injury by playing him in any of the final four regular season games.
“The doctors looked at him and felt it was best to just shut him down until the playoffs,” Snitker said. “It’s biting him a little bit. Just to be on the safe side, he’s not going to play any more games in the regular season.”
Now, the Braves just have to hope a few days' rest proves to be sufficient for Acuña, who felt discomfort when he raced after a fly ball caught by Nick Markakis in the right-center-field gap during the second inning of Tuesday’s 9-6 loss to the Royals. He exited the following inning and later he said that he had lobbied to remain in the game.
The Braves initially announced Acuña was dealing with left hip tightness, but the diagnosis was altered after Thursday’s evaluation.
“If push came to shove, he probably could go with some risk [during the rest of the regular season],” Snitker said. “But it was the doctor’s opinion that we don’t need to be taking any kind of risk right now.”
Acuña exits his first full big league season with 41 home runs and 37 stolen bases. He was three steals shy of becoming the fifth player in MLB history to record 40 homers and 40 stolen bases in a season. Still, he joins Jose Canseco (1988), Barry Bonds (1996 and ’97), Alex Rodriguez (1998) and Alfonso Soriano (2006) as the only players to hit at least 40 homers with at least 37 stolen bases.
Canseco, Bonds, Rodriguez and Soriano are the only members of the 40/40 club. Bonds’ bid to realize this rare achievement in consecutive seasons fell just short when he ended 1997 with 40 homers and 37 stolen bases.
Acuña’s status has increased the likelihood that the Braves will activate Ender Inciarte from the injured list on Friday and give him a chance to prove he is healthy enough to be placed on the NLDS roster. Inciarte has been sidelined since straining his right hamstring on Aug. 16. The Braves had thought about sending him to their Spring Training facility to spend this weekend getting as many at-bats as necessary against Minor League pitchers.
But to guard against the possibility Acuña’s groin ailment lingers longer than expected, the Braves will now likely have Inciarte play in each of this upcoming weekend’s three games against the Mets at Citi Field. The NL Gold Glove Award center fielder needs to at least prove he is capable of being a late-inning defensive replacement.