Braves manager Brian Snitker was understandably frustrated after his team squandered far too many opportunities before and after erasing another early five-run deficit in an 8-7 loss to the Nationals in 12 innings on Friday night at Nationals Park.
But Snitker was obviously happy to reveal Ronald Acuña Jr. might be available to play on Saturday night. The 22-year-old outfielder had to be helped off the field after bruising his left ankle in the fourth inning of Friday's four-hour, 48-minute battle, which stands as MLB’s longest game of the season.
“They said he wasn’t that bad right now,” Snitker said.
Indeed, Acuña was in his customary leadoff spot and penciled in to play center field when the Braves announced their lineup for Saturday's contest against the Nationals.
This encouraging development was not expected when Acuña had to drape his arms around Snitker and assistant trainer Mike Frostad just to get off the field after fouling an Erick Fedde pitch off his left ankle. But by the time the Braves outfielder got to the clubhouse, he was able to walk without assistance to get X-rays, which showed no fracture.
“I think it hit a nerve or something,” Snitker said. “But by the time they got him upstairs, he walked over, had it X-rayed and everything was good.”
Acuña missed two weeks in August with left wrist inflammation and three games at the onset of September with a tight right hamstring. But it looks like he could make an immediate return to the lineup unless he wakes up sore on Saturday and needs an extra day of rest.
When Acuña exited, the Braves were trailing 5-0, which was the same deficit they had encountered within the first two innings of Thursday night’s series-opening win. But their bid for a second comeback victory was denied as they stranded 22 runners and left the bases loaded with one in both of the final two innings but could not take a lead.
There’s certainly not reason to complain about an offense that plated 29 runs against the Marlins on Wednesday and has scored seven runs in each of the first two games of the Nats series. But squandered opportunities will always bring some level of frustration.
“That’s not even a small village; it’s a small state,” Snitker said after watching the Braves strand the most runners since leaving 23 on during a 19-inning win over the Pirates on July 26, 2011.
“He’s throwing well,” Snitker said of his All-Star reliever. “He’s just throwing one pitch an inning it seems like that he doesn’t get back.”
While Snitker received good news regarding Acuña, this was yet another night when he had to go to his bullpen earlier than desired. Josh Tomlin allowed five runs on seven hits and one walk over four innings, meaning the Braves have now seen their starting pitchers complete four innings or less in 26 of the season’s first 45 games.
Despite getting 12 outs or less from their starters nearly 60 percent of the time, the Braves have sat alone atop the National League East standings dating back to Aug. 17. Their success has been fueled by what has become one of the game’s most powerful lineups, especially when Acuña is healthy.
Acuña has hit six homers and produced a 1.537 OPS in 41 plate appearances this month. That’s just slightly better than the six homers and 1.394 OPS Marcell Ozuna has produced while totaling 54 plate appearances in September.
Ozuna padded his stats as he produced his first five-hit game in this loss. The Braves' designated hitter hit his team-high 14th homer in the eighth inning and then had a two-run single in the three-run ninth. But he also popped out with the bases loaded in the 11th, when he was bidding for what would have been just the third six-hit game in franchise history.