Acuña has torn ACL, will miss rest of season

May 27th, 2024

PITTSBURGH -- Ronald Acuña Jr. received devastating news on Sunday night, when he learned he will undergo season-ending knee surgery for the second time in less than three full calendar years.

An MRI exam showed Acuña suffered a complete tear of the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during the first inning of Sunday’s 8-1 win over the Pirates at PNC Park. The reigning National League MVP will have to undergo the same long, grueling rehab process that followed him tearing the ACL in his right knee midway through the 2021 season.

“I hate it for the young men that it affects more than us,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said when asked about the significant injuries some of his stars have suffered this year. “These guys love to play the game. When something like this happens, I hate it.”

Acuña created an immediate scare when he screamed and fell into the infield grass between second and third base. He took a big secondary lead and made a move toward third as catcher Joey Bart threw the ball back to pitcher Martín Pérez. His left knee seemed to buckle before he fell to the ground.

“I saw the catcher throwing the ball back to the pitcher very slow,” Acuña said. “I was timing that so I could steal third. But in that moment, he threw it hard. So I had to come back, and that’s when I felt it.”

Acuña suffering a second significant knee injury at 26 years old is a blow to the baseball world. The Braves right fielder has stood as one of the game’s most dynamic players dating back to 2018, when he was named the National League’s Rookie of the Year. His elite talents were displayed again last year, when he was named NL MVP after becoming the first player to ever hit 40-plus homers and tally 70-plus stolen bases in the same season.

“You never want to see anybody on any side of the field do that,” Chris Sale said. “He’s a big part of this team. He’s one of the best players in the game.”

Acuña has hit 165 homers, collected 196 stolen bases and produced a .903 OPS in his career. He is the only player in MLB history to hit 145-plus homers, steal 190-plus bases and have an OPS of at least .900 through his 26-year-old season.

Making this even more remarkable is the fact that Acuña missed a month of the 2018 season after making his MLB debut a few weeks after Opening Day. He was limited to 46 games during the 2020 COVID season and played 82 games before tearing his ACL two days before the 2021 All-Star break. His production remained as he attempted to regain confidence in the knee in 2022.

With the help of Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos’ great Trade Deadline acquisitions, the Braves overcame Acuña’s absence in 2021 and won the World Series. This certainly wasn’t a challenge they wanted to face again.

Adam Duvall could replace Acuña as the Braves’ everyday right fielder. So instead of platooning with Duvall, Jarred Kelenic could now become the everyday left fielder. Michael Harris II will stay in center field. Forrest Wall seems to be the most likely roster replacement. Wall has hit .306 with four homers and a .912 OPS in 132 plate appearances for Triple-A Gwinnett.

This season-ending injury just added to the frustration Acuña has felt throughout the early part of 2024. He hit .250 with a .716 OPS and only 13 extra-base hits on the season. But four of those extra-base hits -- including Sunday’s leadoff double -- were tallied within his past 31 at-bats.

Acuña could be ready at the start of next season. But we’ve already seen that the first year back from this injury is tough both mentally and physically. And he’ll now have to prove he can still be elite with two surgically repaired knees.