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Acuna, Inciarte stay hot in new lineup spots

July 31, 2018

ATLANTA -- As the Braves look toward the season's final two months with the expectation to remain a postseason contender, they feel better about their recently fortified pitching staff and a lineup that has seemingly improved since Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ender Inciarte were placed in the right spots.After losing

ATLANTA -- As the Braves look toward the season's final two months with the expectation to remain a postseason contender, they feel better about their recently fortified pitching staff and a lineup that has seemingly improved since Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ender Inciarte were placed in the right spots.
After losing the leadoff role to Acuna on July 20, Inciarte took advantage of a rainout by spending a few hours working with hitting coach Kevin Seitzer. The ensuing benefits were once again felt as the Gold Glove Award-winning center fielder notched a season-high four hits in Tuesday night's 11-6 win over the Marlins at SunTrust Park.
"He's been swinging that bat really well ever since [the rainout]," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "It just shows you what kind of classy team guy he is. We'll see going forward how everything works."

Coming off a 201-hit season, Inciarte has had to deal with a few humbling adjustments, the most recent of which was revealed on Monday night, when he learned the acquisition of Adam Duvall meant he would now be out of the lineup against left-handed starters.
But to his credit, Inciarte responded with some fight, as he paced an offensive eruption that was also fueled by three-hit performances supplied by Freddie Freeman and Acuna. The Braves have won three straight games for the first time since July 2 and sit just a half-game behind the first-place Phillies in the National League East.
Inciarte has gone 9-for-17 against right-handers dating back to his impromptu session with Seitzer, and Acuna has added a dynamic flavor to the top of Atlanta's lineup. The 20-year-old phenom has batted .350 and constructed a .435 on-base percentage in the leadoff spot.
"He's capable of doing things like he did tonight," Snitker said. "You can't forget he's just a 20-year-old kid learning his way in the league. For right now, I'm just going to hang with him right there because if he gets hot, it's pretty good."

Given they were together at the Rookie Level, Acuna appreciated enriching the Major League debut of highly touted prospectKolby Allard, who sat through a one-hour, 27-minute rain delay before allowing five runs (four earned) and nine hits over five innings. He will be optioned back to Gwinnett on Wednesday as the Braves prepare to utilize a six-man rotation without ever simultaneously carrying six starters.
Acuna got the Braves rolling as he drilled Dan Straily's fifth pitch of the game over the left-field wall for his 11th homer of the season and the first of his career of the leadoff variety. He added two more singles, including one that plated Dansby Swanson in the fifth.
"I think I've just tried to do the same thing ever since I signed with the Braves," Acuna said. "Obviously I hit leadoff throughout the Minor Leagues, and I feel comfortable hitting wherever they put me in the lineup."

With Acuna and Ozzie Albies filling the top two lineup spots, the Braves have maximized the value of All-Stars Freeman and Nick Markakis, who provided some early comfort for Allard with a two-run homer in the third. Johan Camargo added a solo homer for Atlanta, which received multi-hit performances from six players.
The Braves' offense was scuffling as recently as last week, but it has now tallied at least four runs in three consecutive games and appears to be rounding into form. This may serve as indication that the lineup remains the most consistent strength of a club that got stronger over the past few days by enhancing its pitching depth.

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Inciarte and Swanson provided consecutive doubles to begin the five-run fourth for the Braves. Allard contributed the first of his two sacrifice bunts and Kurt Suzuki delivered a crushing blow with a bases-clearing double that chased Straily, who allowed eight runs (five earned) and 11 hits over 3 2/3 innings. Suzuki can only hope the doubles he has produced the past two nights help him escape his recent funk (.183, 11-for-60) dating back to June 29.

SOUND SMART
Allard delivered the first pitch he saw to right field for a single in the second inning. He became the first Braves pitcher to record a hit in his first career at-bat since Joel De La Cruz on June 29, 2016. He is also the first Braves pitcher within the past 110 years to record a hit and two sacrifices in his debut.

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Camargo has exceeded expectations in the power department as he has drilled 12 home runs, 10 of which have been tallied over 186 at-bats dating back to May 29.

The third baseman has also shined in the field, as he has made stellar plays like the one in the seventh inning when he barehanded J.T. Realmuto's slow roller and fired a strong throw to first to retire the Marlins' speedy catcher.

UP NEXT
Anibal Sanchez will take the mound when the Braves conclude this three-game series against the Marlins on Wednesday night. Sanchez has posted a 1.64 ERA in three career appearances against Miami, but he hasn't faced his former organization since 2016. Miami will counter with Pablo Lopez. First pitch is scheduled for 7:35 p.m. ET.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.