'Locked in' Acuña Jr. hits third HR in 4 games

March 15th, 2021

NORTH PORT, Fla. -- finished three stolen bases shy of a 40-40 season in 2019, then produced the National League’s best at-bats per home run ratio last year. His status as one of the game’s most exciting players has been heightened by his recent power surge.

Further distancing himself from a slow spring start, Acuña homered yet again in a 5-1 win over the Twins on Monday afternoon at CoolToday Park. The Braves outfielder has homered in three of his past four games and three times within his last eight at-bats.

“He’s not chasing again,” said manager Brian Snitker. “You can just tell with the at-bats that he’s kind of getting locked in a little bit.”

Acuña started the spring 1-for-14 with five strikeouts and didn't tally his first homer until last Thursday. The 23-year-old is now just 5-for-24, but the fact that three of the five hits have left the yard provides some indication that he is at least trending in the right direction.

Acuña battled left wrist inflammation for most of last season, but he still managed 14 home runs in 46 games and led the NL with one homer every 11.43 at-bats. His 81 career homers stand as the third-highest total any Braves player has recorded at 22 or younger. The only players with a greater total were Hall of Famer Eddie Mathews (112) and Bob Horner (91).

Pache’s laser
A few minutes before Acuña hit his third-inning homer off left-hander Devin Smeltzer, Braves top prospect Cristian Pache energized his teammates by showing off his rocket arm.

Showing why he’s considered a future Gold Glove Award winner, Pache charged Jake Cave’s single to center field and unleashed a strong, accurate throw that denied Nick Gordon’s attempt to score from second base. The young outfielder tipped his cap as the home crowd applauded his effort.

“Velocity-wise, I think he has the best arm in the Major Leagues,” Snitker said. “I’ve always loved watching him throw. I know that.”

The defensive gem benefited , who allowed five hits -- including three straight singles in the third -- over four scoreless innings. Wilson was first introduced to Pache’s defensive prowess back in 2016.

“I remember being in the [Gulf Coast League] right after I had been drafted, he threw two guys out at home plate down at Dunedin on back-to-back plays,” Wilson said. “From that point on, I was like, 'This guy is an incredible defensive player.'”

Pache ranks as the game’s No. 12 prospect per MLB Pipeline. He is bidding to begin the season as Atlanta’s starting center fielder.

Martin debuts
appeared to be in midseason form as he worked a perfect sixth inning in his spring debut Monday. Martin struck out the first two batters faced and then watched Pache snare Alex Kirilloff’s fly ball to end the frame.

Martin chose to spend the past couple of weeks getting his work in while pitching in intrasquad games. The 34-year-old posted a 1.00 ERA over 19 appearances for the Braves last year. He could be used as both a closer and a primary setup man this year.

“The biggest thing is keeping him upright and healthy,” Snitker said. “The guy has the strike zone, and he has the pitches. He’s a very valuable piece in our bullpen.”

Riley cleared
Snitker was initially unable to say why was scratched from Monday’s lineup. But a short time later, it was learned that Riley cleared COVID-19 protocols and had resumed normal preparations. The third baseman is expected to be back in Atlanta’s lineup for Wednesday night’s game against the Orioles.