ATLANTA -- As Ronald Acuna Jr. nears his return from the disabled list, Ozzie Albies is once again looking like the dynamic catalyst he was throughout most of this season's first two months.Count Nick Markakis and Freddie Freeman among the Braves thrilled by these developments."Anybody can hit in the top
ATLANTA -- As Ronald Acuna Jr. nears his return from the disabled list, Ozzie Albies is once again looking like the dynamic catalyst he was throughout most of this season's first two months.
Count Nick Markakis and Freddie Freeman among the Braves thrilled by these developments.
"Anybody can hit in the top of our order, but to have Albies and when we get Acuna back, to have those guys at the top of the lineup, I don't think there's anybody in baseball that Freddie and myself would rather have hit in front of us than those two," Markakis said.
Albies was removed from the leadoff role when this homestand at SunTrust Park began on Friday. But by the end of Sunday afternoon's sweep-preventing 7-3 win over the Orioles, the 21-year-old second baseman appeared primed to once against consistently serve as an energetic catalyst. He followed Saturday's career-high four-hit game with a value-filled, three-hit performance.
"This was definitely a big confidence booster for him," said Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson, who knocked his first career pinch-hit homer in the eighth. "He put up consistent good at-bats and consistently found holes and hit the ball hard. There's nothing more you can ask for. Every time he goes up there, you feel like something good is going to happen."
Such was the case when Albies produced a .915 OPS through the first 47 games, garnering attention that surely influenced the fact he leads all National League second basemen in All-Star votes. But the young infielder endured some growing pains as he hit .188 with a .542 OPS over a 27-game stretch that ran through Friday, which was when Ender Inciarte replaced him at the top of Atlanta's lineup.
But as Albies showed more patience and a willingness to go the other way from the left side of the plate, he reaped the benefits by going 7-for-9 during the final two games of this series. His fourth-inning single on Sunday gave him a hit in six straight at-bats.
"He's going the other way and not trying to jerk everything," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "He's staying through the ball better. It's a pretty good sign when a guy starts rifling balls the other way. It's good. It just shows he's making adjustments."
Albies' first two plate appearance significantly influenced the outcome. When he delivered an opposite-field single to left field in the first, he advanced to second base when an alert Inciarte drew a late throw to third base. Freeman followed with a two-run single off David Hess, who allowed five runs and seven hits over four innings.
"The first inning, the baserunning was outstanding," Snitker said. "You couldn't ask for anything more exciting. It was guys just making plays. Ender watched the guy go laterally and took the extra base. Then, Oz was heads-up a couple times getting to second base."
After opening the third with a single, Albies caught the Orioles by surprise when he stole second base as catcher Austin Wynns threw the ball back to the mound at the conclusion of a Freeman strikeout. Markakis scored Albies with a double and then crossed the plate himself when the inning extended long enough for Charlie Culberson's two-out, two-run double.
When Albies returns at some point this week, Snitker will have to decide how to construct the top of his lineup. He has made it clear he likes Inciarte there when he is consistently producing. But whatever happens, Albies seems to be a lock for one of the first two spots.
"[Albies] slumped there for a little while, everybody does, but he's been tremendous for us all year," Markakis said. "It seems like he's getting back on track now."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
After Markakis produced his third-inning double, Tyler Flowers walked ahead of the opposite-field, two-run double Culberson hit to the right-center-field gap. Since starting the season 3-for-27, Culberson has batted .308 (32-for-104) and constructed a .519 slugging percentage. Once Acuna concludes his rehab assignment, he'll regain his role as the everyday left fielder and Culberson will likely return to a utility-man role and the team's primary pinch-hit option.
"We'll see how that works," Snitker said. "But I think with coming off the bench and with double switches, these at-bats are going to do nothing but have him more prepared for that role."
Markakis has hit .407 (11-for-27) in his career against the Orioles, his only former team. The veteran outfielder knocked a pair of doubles in the series finale to increase his NL-leading total to 25, putting him two in front of Albies and four in front of Freeman.
Markakis stands as one of 11 players in Braves history to record at least 25 doubles before the All-Star break. Marcus Giles set the franchise record when he notched 29 before the break in 2003.
HE SAID IT
"Overall, it wasn't really a quality outing in any aspect, other than just to get us through five [innings]."
-- Braves starter Brandon McCarthy, who allowed Trey Mancini's leadoff homer in the third and Mark Trumbo's two-run homer in the fifth
Mike Foltynewicz will be activated from the disabled list to start Monday night's series opener against the Reds at SunTrust Park. Foltynewicz has been sidelined since exiting his June 12 start with right triceps tightness. The All-Star candidate has posted an 0.86 ERA over his past seven starts. Cincinnati will counter with Tyler Mahle, who carried a no-hit bid into the seventh inning of his April 24 start against Atlanta. First pitch is scheduled for 7:35 p.m. ET.
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.