ATLANTA -- Braves manager Brian Snitker understood the potential immediate ramifications of pulling Ronald Acuña Jr. from a game on an afternoon when he was already using a short bench and attempting to overcome an early deficit against the mighty Dodgers.
But recognizing the need to focus on the long-term interests of Acuna and his team, Snitker felt he had no choice but to remove Acuna after the 21-year-old MVP candidate turned what he thought was a homer into a very long single during the third inning of Sunday afternoon’s 5-3 win over the Dodgers at SunTrust Park.
“He didn’t run,” Snitker said. “You’ve got to run. It’s not going to be acceptable here. As a teammate, you’re responsible for 24 other guys, and that name on the front is a lot more important than that name on the back of that jersey. You can’t do that. We’re trying to accomplish something special here. Personal things have to be put on the back burner.”
Acuna admired what he thought was his 36th homer of the season and then was held to a single because he was just halfway down the first-base line when the ball hit high off the right-center-field wall. The All-Star outfielder then compounded his mistake by attempting to make amends by stealing second base.
The Dodgers certainly knew what was coming. They made a pair of pickoff attempts before pitching out on the first pitch thrown to Ozzie Albies. Consequently -- instead of recording the steal that would have secured just the fifth 30-homer, 30-stolen base season in Braves history -- Acuna headed back to the dugout to live with his mistake.
“It’s one of those things where I [wasn’t] thinking and that’s the reaction I took,” Acuna said. “[Snitker] felt that was the decision he had to make, and I respect that decision.”
Instead of pulling Acuna immediately, Snitker kept his center fielder in the game for the top of the following inning and then summoned him after he came off the field. Snitker opted to wait so Adam Duvall had time to make the necessary preparations to enter the game.
“I didn’t want to do that to Adam Duvall,” Snitker said. “I’ve learned in the past when you jump like that, you punish the other guy. He didn’t do anything. If we go out there, we’re short-handed and they hit a ball in the gap and he blows a hamstring, what good is that? I wanted to make sure he had time to get loose.”
This is certainly not the first time a player has had to deal with something like this. Hall of Fame Braves manager Bobby Cox famously removed Andruw Jones during the middle of an inning of a game in Pittsburgh during the 1998 season. Snitker pulled Ender Inciarte when he didn’t hustle out of the box during a game last year in Milwaukee.
“I’ve always tried to play baseball hard,” Acuna said. “It’s just one of those things that happen. I’ll just continue to play hard.”
Nobody can say Acuna doesn't play the game in an exciting and aggressive fashion. But this one lapse of judgment could have proven quite costly. Had Rafael Ortega not hit a grand slam in the sixth inning, there would have been a more negative focus on this baserunning blunder that prevented the Braves from scoring in the bottom of the third, which began with a Max Fried leadoff double.
“It’s just one of those things,” Braves veteran catcher Brian McCann said. “It happens. He’ll learn from it and be better for it.”