Acuna drilled by pitch, later exits; benches clear
Urena's fastest first pitch in his career hits Braves phenom
ATLANTA -- Nearly three hours later, Braves manager Brian Snitker was still seething and Marlins manager Don Mattingly was placed in the uncomfortable position of weighing in after Jose Urena hit the red-hot Ronald Acuna Jr. with the first pitch he threw during Atlanta's 5-2 win on Wednesday night at SunTrust Park.
"To get hit like that when all he's doing is playing the game, he's not doing anything to show anybody up," Snitker said. "He's just playing the game. He's a young, talented kid. That's a shame that happened. What happens if they hit him there and it breaks his elbow and he's done for the year? With what we're trying to accomplish here and where we're at, there's no reason for that. I mean, this is a game."
Early indications are Acuna avoided a serious injury. X-rays showed his left elbow was not fractured by a 97.5-mph fastball -- the highest velocity Urena has registered with the first pitch he has thrown in any career start. A CT scan showed no damage to the elbow, the Braves said on Thursday.
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"We talked with Jose right after the game and basically, he was saying, he knows the guy has been swinging the bat good," Mattingly said. "He was trying to get one close. He was trying to run it off in there, and that was the purpose of his pitch. That's exactly what he told us. I had talked with him before [the first inning]. It was like, 'This kid is swinging the bat good. We've got to figure out how to get him out, right?'"
Urena was not immediately ejected after the pitch. Instead, umpires conferred and ejected him a bit later.
"I try to come out to the game to get deep into a game," Urena said. "The first pitch you hit somebody. [The umpires] knew that was a mistake and they let me warm up. But those people, they got crazy and they started to attack me, and I don't know what they were looking for. I just backed up and tried to stick to my game plan."
Umpire crew chief Paul Nauert said his initial thought was to eject Urena, but the decision to do so was not made until he had time to confer with the other umpires at the conclusion of the second confrontation.
"Since it's an unusual situation, we wanted to make sure as a crew we were all on the same page," Nauert said. "You don't just [irrationally] dump somebody. When we got together as a crew, it was decided by the crew that yes he should have been ejected. So that's what we did."
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Even before the exchange caused the benches to clear twice, there was reason to at least wonder about the possibility of something happening. Acuna had homered eight times over the past eight games and was bidding to become the first Braves player to homer in six straight contests -- a streak that remains intact because he was not credited with an at-bat or a sacrifice fly in this game. His attempt to knock a leadoff homer in four straight games was denied by Urena, who hit a MLB-high 14 batters last year and now has a National League-high 11 this season.
"It was gutless," Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. "I know that wasn't the Marlins. That was just Jose Urena. I don't understand it. Just because a kid is having fun playing a game and having incredible success makes no sense."
Benches actually cleared twice. The second time, Snitker and Braves first-base coach Eric Young Sr. began yelling at the Marlins' pitcher after he seemingly exchanged words with Acuna, who tossed his shin guard on the mound as he made his way toward first base.
"I'm not sure I've ever felt like that in a baseball uniform," Snitker said. "That was just my emotion. That kid didn't deserve that."
When Acuna was hit by the pitch, he walked up the third-base line and took a few unintentional steps toward the Marlins' dugout before eventually sitting on the ground for a few minutes in obvious pain. As he went through this progression, Braves center fielder Ender Inciarte, Snitker and Young were among those yelling and making their way toward the mound. This prompted the benches and bullpens to clear the first time.
Urena dropped his glove. But other than Young moving a portion of the scrum with a shove, there were no violent actions. Once Acuna made his way toward first base and Snitker got the sense Urena might remain in the game, words were exchanged yet again, prompting a second confrontation.
Snitker was ejected as he yelled while being held back in his attempt to approach Urena.
"I have not seen [Snitker that fired up]," Freeman said. "It was great. He had every right to react the way he wanted and to keep going as long as he wanted to. It wasn't right, and we loved seeing Brian all fired up like that."
Mattingly certainly did not want to have to go to his bullpen just one pitch into the game, and he said he understood the Braves' reaction and desire to protect Acuna, who did not exit until he took the field for the second inning and realized he could not play before a pitch was thrown.
"What we said with Jose is, 'I don't want to see this kid get hit.' He's a great player," Mattingly said. "He's going to be great for a long time. For us, he's beat us up, but this is not the way want to handle that situation. Obviously, this is not something that we represent or believe in as an organization or myself, too. I would never want that kid getting hit and cause that kind of problem."
Sitting in a tight division battle with the Phillies, the first-place Braves fought against the urge to retaliate and possibly have to deal with the consequences of the suspension that will likely be levied against Urena.
"We can't lose a starter," Freeman said. "Everybody knows retaliation is there and it's obviously in the back of our mind. But the ultimate goal is to win that game. We can't lose our starter in the second inning. I thought we went about it in the right way. We'll see what happens down the road."