Acuña targets May return in OF/DH role

March 25th, 2022

NORTH PORT, Fla. -- Ronald Acuña Jr. remains on track to rejoin the Braves’ lineup just a few weeks into the regular season.

Acuña is targeted to return during the first week of May. To give him time to ease back into full-time duties, he will initially be used as both an outfielder and designated hitter.

In other words, Acuña could play the outfield one day, serve as a DH the next day and then spend the following few days in the outfield. This schedule will allow the 24-year-old a chance to steadily increase his strength and stamina as he returns from the torn right ACL he suffered on July 10.

“He’s got to go through the process,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “There [are] timelines the doctors have. He’s doing everything. He’s right where he needs to be at this point in the rehab. Everybody feels really good about where he is at.”

The Braves initially thought Acuña might simply serve as a designated hitter during the final week of April and then begin playing defense. But they have since opted to hold him back another week.

Acuña spent this winter rehabbing in the Los Angeles area. When he came to Spring Training a couple weeks ago, he said he’d play on Opening Day if it were up to him. A few days later, the two-time All-Star entertained his teammates with a batting practice homer. After hitting the ball, he took a couple steps out of the box and said, “I’m back,” as the ball hit the scoreboard beyond CoolToday Park’s left-center-field fence.

Anderson shakes off the rust
Given the fact Ian Anderson is tied for the second-best postseason ERA of any pitcher through eight career starts (since earned runs became official in both leagues in 1913), the 23-year-old certainly wasn’t bothered by nerves as he started Friday’s 6-3 win over the Red Sox at CoolToday Park. But the Braves right-hander did feel a little odd as he pitched for the first time since tossing five scoreless and hitless innings against the Astros in Game 3 of the World Series.

“That feels like a long time ago,” Anderson said. “It’s great to be back out there.”

Anderson has posted a 1.26 ERA through his first eight career postseason starts. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the only pitchers to post a better ERA through their first eight postseason starts were Orlando Hernandez (1.22), Christy Mathewson (1.23) and Cliff Lee (1.26).

The Braves will give Anderson two more Spring Training starts. He’s lined up to start the third game of the regular season on April 9 against the Reds at Truist Park.

Jansen debuts
The Braves got a look at their new closer when Kenley Jansen made his Grapefruit League debut in the fifth inning on Friday. Jansen retired the first two batters, issued a walk and then yielded an unearned run when Eddie Rosario misplayed Christian Arroyo’s single in right field.

When Jansen signed a one-year, $16 million deal on March 18, Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos said he made this deal only after former closer Will Smith gave his blessing for Jansen to now fill the role. Smith also made his spring debut on Friday. He recorded two strikeouts and pitched around a single in a scoreless sixth inning.