'I feel normal': Acuña returns to leadoff spot, takes step toward Opening Day

March 14th, 2024

NORTH PORT, Fla. -- returned to the Braves lineup with plenty of time to prepare for Opening Day.

Acuña returned to the leadoff spot as the Braves welcomed the Rays to CoolToday Park on Thursday. The reigning National League Most Valuable Player hadn’t played a game since feeling some right knee discomfort during a Feb. 29 game against the Twins.

"I feel great," Acuña said. "I feel super excited."

Acuña went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in Atlanta's 3-1 loss. His return comes exactly two weeks before the Braves open the 2024 season in Philadelphia.

"It was good," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "We'll see how he feels tomorrow and see what the next step is."

The Braves can gradually increase Acuña’s workload as they do with all their regulars at the start of the Grapefruit League season. They utilized him as the designated hitter on Thursday, but could soon have him playing right field.

Acuña has taken live batting practice multiple times over the past week. This has allowed him to see live pitching without having to place any unnecessary strain on his legs.

Acuña felt some right knee discomfort after being caught in a rundown during the third inning of the Feb. 29 game. He played two more innings and planned to play the next day before out of an abundance of caution, the Braves sent him for an MRI exam, which showed irritation around the right meniscus.

This led to a trip to Los Angeles to see Dr. Neal ElAttrache, who had surgically repaired this same knee when Acuña tore his ACL in 2021. ElAttrache simply confirmed the results of the imaging.

"I feel normal," Acuña said. "I feel like I did last year."

Acuña produced MLB’s first 40-70 season when he hit 41 homers and stole 73 bases last year. Snitker has said this recent knee ailment won’t affect how aggressive Acuña is on the basepaths this year.

“He’s still young and he’s still at an age where he can still [steal a lot of bases],” Snitker said. “He’s going to reach a time where he’s going to slow down on his own. For now, you've just got to let a kid like that loose and let him play his game.”