ATLANTA -- Having routinely displayed an easygoing, youthful innocence throughout these early months of his blossoming career, Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. understood he was in the midst of something special when he actually felt nervous before his first plate appearance in Tuesday night's 10-6 win over the Marlins at SunTrust Park.
"[I was nervous] just because I wasn't sure I would be able to hit another home run like that," Acuna said through an interpreter.
Acuna needed just one pitch to amaze himself and the countless others who have been bewildered by what he has proven capable of doing at just age 20. He turned on Trevor Richards' first-pitch fastball, watched it sail over the left-field wall and instantly became the youngest player in Major League history to homer in five consecutive games.
"At first, I laughed a lot, and then I got nervous again," Acuna said, when asked for his reaction to the solo shot that also made him the first player since Brady Anderson in 1999 to hit a leadoff homer in three consecutive games.
Charlie Culberson was on deck when Acuna knocked what was his fourth leadoff homer over the past five games. Less than a minute later, he hit Richards' next pitch over the fence to give the Braves a 2-0 lead. The most recent time a Major League team's first two batters homered against an opponent's first two pitches had been when Philadelphia's Jimmy Rollins and Placido Polanco did so against Atlanta's Russ Ortiz on Sept. 9, 2004.
"That kind of surprised me," Culberson said. "I was thinking, 'I've got to follow this up? This happened again?' Everything has happened so easy for Ronald, and it puts a smile on everyone else's face."
Acuna's nerves didn't prevent him from adding to the splendor of his evening with a three-run, seventh-inning homer off Adam Conley. The no-doubt, opposite-field liner capped his third three-hit performance within a six-game span and provided him his first multi-homer contest.
"I'm sitting there thinking, 'Wow, this is something else,'" Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "You're experiencing it and enjoying a young kid with a lot of talent having fun playing baseball."
As the Braves have won 13 of their past 17 and gained a two-game lead over the Phillies in the National League East, they have benefited from the non-waiver Trade Deadline fortifications made to the pitching staff. But the offensive resurgence can be attributed to Snitker's decision to remove Ender Inciarte from the leadoff spot and give the assignment to Acuna after the All-Star break.
"He's the best leadoff hitter I've ever seen," Inciarte said. "He's the best player I've ever seen. He's just unbelievable. Hopefully, he's going to continue to help us in the long run because we just want to go to the playoffs. He's a big part of where we are right now."
Acuna has kept the Rookie of the Year Award battle interesting as he has hit .288 with 19 homers and a .922 OPS through his first 67 games. In 43 games before the All-Star break, he batted .249, struck out once every 3.02 at-bats and tallied seven homers.
During the 24 games since the break, Acuna has batted .358, struck out once every 3.8 at-bats and tallied 12 home runs, eight of which have been hit in a span of 34 at-bats dating back to last Wednesday.
"He's a guy who can do a lot of things when you put him up there [in the leadoff spot]," Snitker said. "It's been amazing how he's been a different guy. It felt like he was striking out looking a lot [before the break]. His eye is now like I remember in Spring Training. He brings a lot to the game. He's a middle-of-the-order bat, probably, but in the right situation, it's nice to have a guy like that."
Acuna's recent surge might be influenced by the move to the leadoff spot. Or it may simply be a product of one of the game's top talents finding comfort now that he has gained extended experience at the Major League level. His initiation was interrupted near the end of May, when he sprained his right anterior cruciate ligament and spent a month on the disabled list.
"It's a joy to watch him play," Inciarte said. "I talk to him all the time because he's so special. I tell him, 'God blessed you with this ability, so stay humble and keep doing what you're doing because you're going to make a lot of people happy for a long time.'"
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Acuna would not have had a chance to hit his three-run homer in the seventh had Dansby Swanson not extended the inning with the decisive, two-out RBI single against Conley. Swanson has hit just .203 with a .572 OPS dating back to June 6, but he has batted .394 (26-for-66) in late-inning pressure situations this season.
"I think Dansby's at-bat was the biggest at-bat of the night," Culberson said. "For him to come through with two outs there and put us ahead, I give a lot of props to him for that at-bat."
After Anibal Sanchez surrendered five runs (four earned) over five innings and Jesse Biddle surrendered three straight hits that allowed the Marlins to tally a go-ahead run in the sixth, Freddie Freeman extended his assault on Miami's pitching staff by hitting a two-out, game-tying homer in the bottom half of the inning.
Freeman has hit .439 (25-for-57) with eight homers in 14 games against the Marlins this season. He's the first Braves player to tally eight homers against a team in a season since Andruw Jones did so against the Nationals in 2005.
HE SAID IT
"I'm not surprised they're throwing the pitches they're throwing. The pitchers are trying to get ahead in the count. That's what most guys try to do. I think the surprise is the results. I would never expect anything like that." -- Acuna
Kevin Gausman will attempt to make another good impression when the Braves and Marlins conclude a four-game series at 7:35 p.m. ET on Wednesday. Gausman impressed with the splitter and changeup he used while limiting the Brewers to one run over eight innings on Friday.