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Braves get 'refreshed' Riley back from IL

@mlbbowman
September 6, 2019

ATLANTA -- Austin Riley’s impressive rookie season was derailed by a July slump that preceded a right knee injury. The 22-year-old slugger's time on the injured list afforded him the chance to spend the past month decompressing and aiming to re-establish himself as a key member of the Braves’ lineup.

ATLANTA -- Austin Riley’s impressive rookie season was derailed by a July slump that preceded a right knee injury. The 22-year-old slugger's time on the injured list afforded him the chance to spend the past month decompressing and aiming to re-establish himself as a key member of the Braves’ lineup.

Riley was activated from the IL before Friday night’s game against the Nationals. He is no longer bothered by the partially torn knee ligament that was diagnosed on Aug. 8. More importantly, he’s confident he can get back to where he was in June, when he was a legit National League Rookie of the Year candidate.

“Obviously, everybody knows I was struggling right before the injury,” Riley said. “A couple games before [being put on the injured list] I was feeling like I was starting to click a little bit. To be able to go down, relax a little bit, work with [Triple-A Gwinnett hitting coach Bobby Magallanes] and not have to put as much pressure on myself, I think that was a blessing in disguise.”

Riley was in Friday’s lineup against Washington’s Patrick Corbin and will likely continue to draw starts against left-handed starting pitchers, and he’ll likely continue to play right field in home games because the Braves feel more comfortable with Adam Duvall patrolling the more spacious left field at SunTrust Park.

The current plan is for the Braves to use Riley and Duvall as their corner outfielders against lefties. Matt Joyce and Rafael Ortega will fill these positions against right-handed starters. But there’s a chance Riley could eventually re-establish himself as an everyday option.

When Riley hit .160 with three homers and a .517 OPS over the last 24 games he played before being placed on the injured list, he constructed a 41.9 percent strikeout rate. He was likely going to be optioned to Gwinnett had he not been placed on the injured list.

Still, the Braves have reason to be anxious about what they might receive from Riley, who debuted on May 15 and hit 14 homers with a .930 OPS through his first 42 career games. He had a 1.213 OPS in 39 plate appearances against left-handers and a .850 OPS in 135 plate appearances against right-handers within this span.

“The good thing is he’s healthy now and mentally refreshed,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “Hopefully, he can bring some of what he brought the first time around.”

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