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Acuna, Markakis swap positions vs. Boston

Fenway's spacious right field set to challenge Acuna
MLB.com @mlbbowman

BOSTON -- Though he has experienced some recent offensive struggles, Ronald Acuna Jr. has spent the first month of his career establishing himself as one of baseball's most talented and exciting defenders. The 20-year-old phenom will spend this weekend being challenged by Fenway Park's spacious and non-symmetrical right field.

Before Friday night's series opener against the Red Sox, Braves manager Brian Snitker said Nick Markakis will play left field, and Acuna will fill the right-field position throughout this three-game set. He said he wanted to take advantage of Markakis' familiarity of playing in front of the Green Monster -- Fenway's tall left-field wall.

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BOSTON -- Though he has experienced some recent offensive struggles, Ronald Acuna Jr. has spent the first month of his career establishing himself as one of baseball's most talented and exciting defenders. The 20-year-old phenom will spend this weekend being challenged by Fenway Park's spacious and non-symmetrical right field.

Before Friday night's series opener against the Red Sox, Braves manager Brian Snitker said Nick Markakis will play left field, and Acuna will fill the right-field position throughout this three-game set. He said he wanted to take advantage of Markakis' familiarity of playing in front of the Green Monster -- Fenway's tall left-field wall.

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But given Markakis' familiarity with playing caroms off the wall were limited to a three-game series played in May 2006, it's easy to assume the primary desire was to give the more athletic Acuna the responsibility of manning the more challenging right field.

"You don't want Ronald chasing balls or whatever," Snitker said. "Nick said he did it with Baltimore. It's not real easy. That right-field corner is not easy either."

Despite having totaled just 41 chances through his first 41 games, Acuna entered this series tied for first with four 4-star catches (catch probability between 26-50%). The Braves assigned him to serve as their primary left fielder because left field is much more spacious than right field at SunTrust Park.

Video: ATL@PHI: Markakis sprints for a great snag at wall

Regardless of where they are aligned, Markakis' improvement combined with Acuna's addition to a mix that features two-time Gold Glove Award winner Ender Inciarte has given the Braves one of the game's best defensive outfield trios.

Braves outfielders entered Friday ranked fourth among all MLB teams with six Outs Above Average -- the cumulative effect of all individual catch-probability plays a fielder has been credited or debited with. Last year, Matt Kemp served as the primary left fielder, and the Braves ranked 19th with -6 OAA.

Among the 135 outfielders who have had at least 25 opportunities this year, Inciarte is tied for first with six OAA. Acuna ranks 33rd with two and Markakis 45th with one. Last year, Markakis ranked 102 out of 124 outfielders (minimum 100 opportunities) with -5 OAA.

"It's unbelievable how good [the outfield defense] is," Snitker said. "It helps to have better athletes. Nick is playing a phenomenal outfield. The analytics and the positioning [have helped]. First-base coach [Eric Young] is on top of it every day. I think he's done a tremendous job instituting the information given to us."

Wisler replaces Gohara
When the Braves officially placed Luiz Gohara on the family leave list on Friday, Matt Wisler was recalled from Triple-A Gwinnett. Wisler will be available out of the bullpen over the next few days. If he's not used, there's a chance he could start the first game of Monday's doubleheader against the Mets.

But for now, the Braves are evaluating their options, which would include giving the start to a pitcher who could be called up to serve as the 26th man during one game of the twin bill. Brandon McCarthy is slated to start the second game.

Gohara can remain on the family leave list for seven days -- a span that runs through Thursday. The 21-year-old left-hander traveled to Brazil with the expectation he would spend at least a week with his mother, who is recovering from heart surgery.

Once Gohara returns, the Braves could send him to make a start for Triple-A Gwinnett. But Snitker indicated they might allow him to simply throw a bullpen session before possibly being used out of Atlanta's bullpen.

Odds and ends
• Right-handed starting pitcher Mike Soroka was cleared to throw off a mound on Friday for the first time since being placed on the disabled list last week with an inflamed right shoulder. Snitker indicated Soroka is lined up to make a rehab start next week and could then be ready to rejoin Atlanta's rotation.

Kurt Suzuki served as the designated hitter for Friday's series opener. Fellow catcher Tyler Flowers will likely be the Braves' DH for Saturday afternoon's game.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.

Atlanta Braves, Luiz Gohara, Ronald Acuna Jr., Nick Markakis, Matt Wisler