Acuña ends homerless drought as Braves cap sweep in extras

April 17th, 2024

HOUSTON -- took a couple of steps out of the batter’s box and prepared to slam his bat to the ground before realizing he had finally homered.

It had been a while for the reigning National League MVP.

Acuña tallied 65 at-bats before finally erasing the zero from this year’s home run total. The Braves right fielder ended his drought with a fifth-inning solo shot in a 5-4 win over the Astros in 10 innings on Wednesday afternoon at Minute Maid Park.

“I felt like I hit it good, but it felt like I got under it too much,” Acuña said through an interpreter. “It felt like it was too elevated. But luckily, it went out.”

Acuña created the day’s top highlight, but the Braves completed a three-game sweep with another strong bullpen performance and Orlando Arcia’s two-out, go-ahead single in the 10th. Pierce Johnson, Joe Jiménez, A.J. Minter and Raisel Iglesias held the Astros scoreless over the final four innings.

The bullpen’s work helped the Braves regain the early lead they had gained courtesy of the home runs hit by Acuña and Marcell Ozuna, who leads the Majors in homers (eight) and RBIs (23).

Maybe Acuña just had to be introduced to the feel of hitting a home run. There wasn’t anything cheap about the J.P. France sweeper that he drilled halfway up the ivy wall beyond the center-field fence. The ball came off the bat at 109.5 mph and traveled a Statcast-projected 422 ft. It would have been a home run in every big league ballpark except for Arizona’s Chase Field.

Still, as Acuña rounded first base, he looked back toward the Braves’ dugout, smiled and shrugged his shoulders, seemingly in disbelief.

“When you go deep at that part of the ballpark against that kind of pitch, it’s a good sign,” Braves starter Max Fried said.

While Acuña started to break free from his early-season power drought, Fried endured his third rough start of the young season. Fried surrendered seven hits, issued four walks and allowed three earned runs over five innings. He has a 7.71 ERA through his first four starts.

Spencer Strider made just one healthy start before sustaining a season-ending right elbow injury. Fried has been efficient in just one of four starts. All-Star catcher Sean Murphy has been on the injured list since straining his left oblique on Opening Day. And three-time All-Star second baseman Ozzie Albies is also expected to miss at least a couple of weeks with a fractured right big toe.

Despite all of this, Atlanta owns a National League-best 12-5 record. Its primary relievers have pitched well and Reynaldo López has helped stabilize the rotation. But much of the team’s success can be attributed to an offense that easily leads the Majors with an .842 OPS.

One season after matching MLB’s season home run record (307) and becoming the first AL/NL club to produce a .500 slugging percentage, the Braves look like they again have the game’s best offense. They have continued to produce at a high level, despite Acuña producing a .797 OPS with just five extra-base hits thus far.

It’s too early to fret over statistics. But Acuña’s numbers were more glaring because of what he did last year, when he became the first player to hit 40-plus homers and tally at least 70 steals in a season.

“Even last night, he was kind of mis-hitting some balls and getting hits,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “It’s like when guys start doing that, they’re ready to get going and get on a run. He’s getting hits and stealing bags. I’m sure it was good for him to get that first home run out of the way.”

Acuña’s homerless stretch of 65 at-bats to start the season is the fifth longest by any player following a 40-homer year. The longer droughts were endured by Marcus Semien (173 in 2022), Rocky Colavito (100 in 1962) Alfonso Soriano (74 in 2007) and Frank Thomas (74 in 1997).

It’s not like Acuña got off to a blistering start from a home run perspective last season. He finished April with just four home runs. He hit 11 of his 41 home runs in September. In other words, there’s plenty of time for him to enjoy one of his crazy power streaks.

“He’s as good as anyone in the game,” Fried said.