Acuña exits after strong day, but won't see IL time

Star OF collects HR, assist before being removed as a precaution with right knee soreness

August 14th, 2022

MIAMI -- There’s no panic button in sight for the Braves just yet. Despite Ronald Acuña Jr. exiting Game 2 of Atlanta’s doubleheader at loanDepot park in the seventh inning on Saturday night, neither manager Brian Snitker nor Acuña are worried that the star right fielder will be out of action for an extended period of time.

Acuña exited the game after the top of the inning, in which he appeared to tweak his right knee while running to second base on a foul ball from Austin Riley. The club announced that Acuña was removed as a precaution with right knee soreness and is considered day to day.

Prior to his early exit, Acuña had been busy at the plate and in right field. He showed off his arm strength with an outfield assist to help secure a Game 1 win, then launched a first-pitch leadoff homer to kick off the Braves’ 6-2 win over the Marlins in Game 2.

Snitker was adamant postgame that Acuña won’t need any IL time, and Acuña himself said that he’ll be ready to play on Sunday if the team wants him in the lineup. That will depend on how Acuña feels in the morning, and whether Snitker and the training staff want Acuña to play nine more innings on the artificial turf of loanDepot park.

“Yeah, I would say it's particularly tough to play on the synthetic grass or the turf, and on top of that to play 18 innings,” Acuña said via interpreter Franco Garcia. “I feel like I've been just sort of playing with the soreness and some of the pains for about a week now or even further back.”

Acuña tore his right ACL last year while playing the Marlins in this ballpark on July 10. It makes sense the Braves want to be cautious with their three-time All-Star, especially as they try to maintain a healthy lead in the NL Wild Card race. Atlanta will rely on other members of its stacked lineup to step up if Acuña does miss some time.

Atlanta has consistently played it safe with Acuña this season. When he made his first appearance at loanDepot park, Snitker said that the power hitter would be DHing the whole series and likely most series on artificial turf fields for the beginning of the season. That concern passed, as did the concern over a right groin strain Acuña sustained in May that sidelined the right fielder for a handful of games but didn’t require any IL time.

But even without Acuña in the lineup, the Braves have had such solid offensive depth that they pose a threat to any pitcher they face. Yes, the lineup is even more potent when Acuña is batting leadoff; his power and defensive ability will prove crucial as Atlanta makes a push for the postseason over the remaining months of the season. But if Game 2 proved anything, it was that Acuña isn’t the only home run hitter in the lineup. Matt Olson homered in a third straight game, and Vaughn Grissom hit his second homer in just his fourth game in the Majors.

Grissom and Michael Harris II, a pair of 21-year-old rookies who each made the jump from Double-A Mississippi to the Majors, bolster the bottom of Atlanta’s lineup in a way that would unsettle any big league pitcher. And when Acuña is healthy, the threat of two speedy rookies getting on base ahead of one of baseball’s biggest hitters is cause for concern. There’s no telling what the Braves will be capable of once Grissom, the club’s No. 1 prospect per MLB Pipeline, has more than four MLB games’ worth of experience.

“You can ask any pitcher,” Olson said. “He's not comfortable to face a lineup [where] anybody can leave the yard, and especially when guys are coming straight from Double-A and are able to do it as well.

"I feel like I've been around a decent amount, and that's nothing that I've ever seen in the way that Vaughn and Mike are able to just jump right in and put together good at-bats. Even [catcher Chadwick] Tromp today … it's been a while since he's been up here, and he has three hits and two doubles and [is] driving in guys [in Game 1]. That's what good teams do."

Like Acuña, Grissom and Harris also boast some defensive skills. Since his callup in late May, Harris has proven a key piece of the outfield puzzle, showing off his 93rd-percentile sprint speed in center field. Grissom, too, has flashed his acumen, snagging a line drive from Garrett Cooper with impressive hops for the final out of the game -- with bases loaded, nonetheless.

“He's a talented kid,” Snitker said of Grissom. “I mean, you just want him to keep doing what he's doing not trying to do any more because, you know, it's been pretty impressive so far in a short, short sample."