WASHINGTON -- As the Braves moved a little closer to first place in the National League East and enhanced the doubts about the Nationals' ability of capturing a division title they were supposed to easily win, Ronald Acuna Jr. highlighted a power-filled win by hitting a home run and robbing
WASHINGTON -- As the Braves moved a little closer to first place in the National League East and enhanced the doubts about the Nationals' ability of capturing a division title they were supposed to easily win, Ronald Acuna Jr. highlighted a power-filled win by hitting a home run and robbing another at Nationals Park.
"He's a very talented young man," Braves manager Brian Snitker said after his team moved within a half-game of the first-place Phillies with Wednesday night's 8-3 win over the third-place Nationals, who sit 5 1/2 games behind Atlanta.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, Acuna is the fifth player this season to hit a home run and rob a home run in the same game. He is the first to do both in the same inning.
Mike Foltynewicz worked into the sixth inning after battling through a 35-pitch first inning and saw his effort preserved by Luke Jackson's clutch appearance. Charlie Culberson hit yet another home run against the Nationals, and Tyler Flowers highlighted his three-hit night with a long home run that was trumped a few minutes later by Acuna's.
"[Acuna] barely got that one," Flowers said. "He's got way more than that."
As the Braves captured a second straight win since seeing their bullpen taxed in the first game of Tuesday's doubleheader, they were once again treated to the five-tool talents of Acuna, who showed his impressive power in the four-run fourth inning when he barreled Tommy Milone's 87.2-mph fastball and watched his career-long homer travel a projected 452 feet, according to Statcast™, over the center-field wall.
The only other Braves home run to travel farther since Statcast™ began tracking in 2015 was the 464-foot shot Freddie Freeman hit off Jacob deGrom on June 13, 2015.
"I definitely got that one pretty good," Acuna said through an interpreter. "But yeah, I think I could probably get one a little better and maybe a little farther."
Acuna has provided a glimpse of his tremendous potential as he has produced a .991 OPS and five of his 12 homers since moving to the leadoff spot on July 20. The 20-year-old phenom will play center field when Ender Inciarte sits against left-handers, and it doesn't look like the Braves will skip a beat defensively without their two-time Gold Glover in center.
Still energized by his latest homer, Acuna took the field in the bottom of the fourth and made his presence known as he tracked Matt Adams' 103.1-mph liner. Statcast™ projected the ball would travel 405 feet, but it was caught just above the 402 sign when Acuna got his glove above the outfield wall and committed some thievery.
"The second it was hit, I knew it was a well-hit ball," Acuna said. "I just kind of turned back without really looking. I then looked, saw where the ball was and measured where the wall was. I knew I had a chance. So, I just tried to make the play."
As Foltynewicz limited the Nationals to three runs -- one earned -- and six hits over 5 2/3 innings, he certainly appreciated the multitasking contributions made by Acuna, who became the first player to hit a homer and rob one in the same inning this season.
"The kid is amazing," Foltynewicz said. "Like Snit said a couple weeks ago, you can't leave your seat when watching these guys. I knew that ball was going to be exactly where it was and if Ronald timed it up perfectly enough, it was going to be caught."
So what felt better, hitting a home run or robbing one?
"I'd say the home run," Acuna said. "But to be honest, it felt almost as good to rob that one."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
After Bryce Harper opened the bottom of the sixth with his 28th homer, Juan Soto was ejected by plate umpire Greg Gibson before seeing a pitch. Michael A. Taylor followed with a pinch-hit single. But with a four-run lead and the desire to maximize the depth of his bullpen for Thursday afternoon's series finale, Snitker stuck with Foltynewicz until he walked Ryan Zimmerman to load the bases with two outs. Jackson entered and promptly ended the threat by striking out Adam Eaton.
"I didn't want to use [Jackson] a lot because he threw two innings yesterday, but he came in today and said, 'I'm ready to go,'" Snitker said. "Good for him. It was a huge spot right there. It's a game changer."
Once Jackson recorded his key out, Dan Winkler worked two scoreless innings and Brad Brach benefited from a line-drive double play in a scoreless ninth. Snitker entered the game hoping to stay away from at least four of his relievers, including his top two options Jesse Biddle and A.J. Minter. So, the innings provided by Winkler and Brach proved quite valuable.
Flowers fueled Atlanta's four-run fourth with what also stands as one of the longest home runs of his career. His two-run shot deep into the left-field seats against Milone traveled a projected 448 feet -- the second-longest he has hit since the start of the 2015 season. The veteran catcher hit a 451-foot shot against Chris Sale on July 8, 2016.
Three of his homers from the past four seasons have been projected at exactly 448 feet.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Culberson got the Braves rolling with the three-run homer in the second inning against Milone. Culberson's shot was his third home run within a span of six at-bats and the fifth in 31 at-bats against the Nationals this season. The veteran utility man entered Tuesday with five homers through his first 196 at-bats of the season.
The eight homers he has tallied in 205 at-bats this season are two more than he had over 411 career at-bats entering the season.
"The guy is good," Flowers said. "I guess he's just never played a lot before. He's another guy where the count, the score or the situation doesn't seem to affect him. Those guys are hard to come by. He's done a great job, and hopefully he's going to play a little more with the way he's been swinging it."
Anibal Sanchez will take the mound when the Braves and Nationals conclude their four-game set Thursday at 1:05 p.m. ET. Sanchez has posted a 2.15 ERA over 24 career starts against Washington. The Nationals will counter with left-hander Giovany Gonzalez, who has allowed five earned runs in two of three starts since the All-Star break. The game will be broadcast live only on Facebook Watch.
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.