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Acuna starting to see spring results

Dale Murphy: 'There's something special about that kid'
@mlbbowman
March 12, 2019

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- A few hours after marveling at the titanic home runs Ronald Acuna Jr. blasted during Tuesday morning’s batting practice, Dale Murphy walked through the Braves' clubhouse and said, “There’s something special about that kid.” Murphy had just witnessed Acuna tally a hit in each of

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- A few hours after marveling at the titanic home runs Ronald Acuna Jr. blasted during Tuesday morning’s batting practice, Dale Murphy walked through the Braves' clubhouse and said, “There’s something special about that kid.”

Murphy had just witnessed Acuna tally a hit in each of his three plate appearances in a 5-0 win over the Cardinals. The reigning National League Rookie of the Year highlighted his three-hit performance with a third inning, line drive solo shot off Miles Mikolas, who surrendered the Majors’ fifth-lowest home run rate (0.72 per nine innings) last year.

“I felt good from the start of camp,” Acuna said. “But as the games have progressed, I have definitely felt even better.”

A little more than two weeks from Opening Day, Acuna appears to be entering a groove similar to the one he found during last year’s second half. The 21-year-old Braves outfielder has gone 5-for-5 with two homers and a double over the past two days. He entered Tuesday’s game against the Pirates hitting .200 (4-for-20) with just one extra-base hit -- a March 4 homer against the Astros.

Providing a glimpse of how quickly the image of numbers can change within Spring Training’s small-sample-size world, Acuna is now hitting .360 (9-for-25) with three homers and a 1.208 OPS.

“I think with those last at-bats, I’ve had a little extra patience,” Acuna said, through an interpreter. “Initially, I think I was still having good at-bats. I just wasn’t getting results. Things are progressing quickly and we’re starting to see the results now.”

Acuna displayed his speed when he began Tuesday’s second inning with an opposite-field double against Mikolas. His fourth-inning solo shot was a no-doubt homer off the bat, and his sixth-inning RBI single raced through the left side of the infield.

“It’s an impressive set of skills,” Braves bench coach Walt Weiss said. “The power and speed combo is elite on both ends. He’s not just a power guy. I think he’s going to be a really good hitter over the course of his career. He’s fun to watch. When he gets rolling, it’s something to watch.”

The baseball world marveled at the long tear Acuna enjoyed, as he hit .322 with 19 homers and a 1.028 OPS upon moving to the top of the lineup following last year’s All-Star break. His success created reason to believe the Braves would want to maximize his plate appearances by keeping him in the leadoff spot during the upcoming season.

But when the Braves have had most of their regulars in the same lineup, Ender Inciarte has filled the leadoff role and Acuna has batted fourth. While the order could change before the season, and possibly multiple times within the season, it appears manager Brian Snitker is leaning toward putting Acuna in position to maximize the value of run-producing opportunities created by Josh Donaldson and Freddie Freeman.

While Acuna prefers to bat leadoff, he said his mindset and approach will not change when batting cleanup.

“The mentality is the same for me -- see the ball, hit the ball,” Acuna said.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.