DENVER -- Ronald Acuña Jr. entered Monday’s series opener with the Rockies at Coors Field on a bit of a bad-luck streak. Last year’s National League Rookie of the Year was hitting .129 (4-for-31) on the young season, but according to Statcast, his expected batting average, based on launch angle
DENVER -- Ronald Acuña Jr. entered Monday’s series opener with the Rockies at Coors Field on a bit of a bad-luck streak. Last year’s National League Rookie of the Year was hitting .129 (4-for-31) on the young season, but according to Statcast, his expected batting average, based on launch angle and exit velocity of batted balls, was .291.
As luck would have it, things turned around for Acuna in Monday’s 8-6 victory over Colorado. The slugger led a barrel barrage for Atlanta, as Braves hitters had 12 hard-hit balls, according to Statcast (95 mph exit velocity or greater), including four barrels.
Acuna’s was the highlight, a 111.6 mph blast into the right-center-field bullpen for a two-run homer off Rockies ace Kyle Freeland in the first inning. Acuna’s homer traveled a Statcast-projected 434 feet, making it the longest opposite-field home run by a Braves player since Statcast tracking began in 2015.
The previous mark was held by Tyler Flowers, who hit a 419-foot homer to right field with the same exit velocity as Acuna’s from Monday, against the Brewers at Turner Field on May 26, 2016.
“Baseball’s just a process,” Acuna said through an interpreter. “There are highs and lows. Right now, whether I'm hitting or not, the most important thing is that the team is winning.”
Acuna’s homer came on a 2-1 slider from Freeland that was down and away, a pitch that the left-hander said he wanted to make in that situation, and executed.
“I haven't seen the pitch that Acuna hit, but I've got to go look at that pitch,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “From the side, that looked pretty good. And for him to hit it that way, he's sort of a special player, that left fielder.”
“At the end of the day, wherever they throw it, really, I’m just trying to focus on making good contact with the ball,” Acuna said.
Acuna led the way with a 2-for-3 performance, adding a single and a walk. But plenty of Braves followed his lead with hard-hit balls of their own.
Dansby Swanson had a 106.6 mph lineout to second base in the second inning, Freddie Freeman lined a single up the middle that narrowly missed Freeland, coming off the bat at 102.8 mph, in the third. In the fifth, Nick Markakis and Swanson had back-to-back smashes at an identical 103.9 mph. Markakis' was a single, followed by Swanson's two-run triple.
All of that is not to mention the six other batted balls that were hit hard and resulted in outs. It’s still early in the season, but after Braves hitters finished 26th in MLB last year with an 87.1 mph average exit velocity, they were tied for seventh with the Rays at 89.3 mph entering Monday.
Atlanta needed every bit of offense to ward off a comeback effort by Colorado after holding a 7-0 lead at one point. But it all started with Acuna, whose hard contact (his average exit velocity this season entering Monday was 93.8 mph) is starting to pay dividends.
“He’s been hitting the ball so hard,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I’m just sitting around here every day just kind of waiting, thinking, 'This guy’s going to go off here before long.'"
For Acuna, as with every other player, the peaks and valleys of baseball are many, and he knows they don’t last forever.
“As we continue to progress,” Acuna said, “bad things will go away, and good things will continue to come.”
Manny Randhawa is a reporter for MLB.com based in Denver. Follow him on Twitter at @MannyOnMLB.