A collective sigh of relief by Atlanta Braves players and management upon learning that X-rays of Ronald Acuña Jr.’s left elbow were negative. The gasps turned to giddy laughter the next day. Acuña returned to the lineup Tuesday and went 3-6, including an RBI double in the fourth, as the Braves won, 6-5.
Acuna was struck by a 98-mph fastball from Pittsburgh Pirates reliever Colin Holderman. He left the game in the sixth inning of an 8-6 Braves win. The Braves released an announcement later that evening confirming the X-rays were negative. His status was considered day-to-day.
Prior to being hit, Acuna led off Monday’s game with a 448-foot blast that cleared both bullpens in left centerfield. That was his 26th home run of the season, his fifth leadoff homer of the season, and the 31st of the 25-year-old outfielder’s career. The hit by pitch was the 44th time that he was hit by a pitch in his career.
The Braves’ depth came into play as backup outfielder Kevin Pillar delivered a game-tying single with two outs in the ninth and later scored from first base on Orlando Arcia’s game-winning double.
The Braves own MLB’s best record of 72-40 and won their second straight against the Pirates after losing three in a row, including the first game of this four-game series.
Braves Star Returns After Scary HBP
Don’t Even Think About It
The loss of Acuña for any length of time would be too scary to conceive. Not only would the Braves lineup suffer (despite its overall prowess), but his MVP candidacy would as well. His stellar play in right field, cannon arm, and batting proficiency are something that the Braves don’t want to lose.
He debuted in the majors in 2018. His first season was nothing short of remarkable. Among the highlights was the coveted National League Rookie of the Year Award. In his first year, Acuna hit .293 with a .917 OPS.
Currently, he is hitting .341, with a 1.008 OPS to go with his 26 homers. He has 53 stolen bases, which is already a career-high. He is returning to the form and promise he showed early in his career.
The ACL Injury of 2021
In July of 2021, just three days before his scheduled second All-Star Game start, Acuña landed awkwardly after a leaping attempt in Miami caused a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
The Braves won the World Series that year without him. Their makeshift outfield of Jorge Soler, Adam Duvall, Eddie Rosario, and Joc Pederson, all of whom were acquired by Atlanta in July of that season, is the stuff of legend.
Acuña, meanwhile, worked to recover and rejoin the team. The usual ACL recovery time is eight to 12 months. He was not the same. He played 119 games in 2022, a season in which he hit just .266.
A telling statistic is well-known regarding his success against fastballs. Last season, he slugged only .416 against four-seamers, which was 56 points below the major league average. This year, his fastball slugging percentage is up to .773 and all of his numbers are on a level that makes him very much an MVP candidate. Certainly, he and the Braves hope another World Series is within reach as well.