Amid ‘frustrating time,’ Braves’ Ronald Acuña trying to get healthy

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com

PHILADELPHIA – During the Braves’ most recent homestand, Ronald Acuña played well in all facets of the game. He looked like himself – perhaps more than he had to any point before that – and made it seem as if he was turning a corner.

Then came batting practice Thursday, when Acuña was hitting in the cage and experienced his latest bump in a season full of them. “I just felt my back bothering me,” Acuña said Friday through Braves interpreter Franco García. The outfielder was not in Friday’s lineup, the second game he has missed in as many days.

“It’s been a pretty frustrating time, but there’s highs and lows,” Acuña said. “Honestly, my goal is just to try and get healthy and stay healthy and carry that on to next season as well.”

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The Braves officially termed this “mid-back tightness.” Acuña has dealt with knee soreness and various leg issues this season, as he has returned from last summer’s surgery on his ACL. The Braves have had to manage Acuña’s various ailments, though manager Brian Snitker has expressed that some of this – such as the knee soreness – is normal after Acuña’s procedure.

The back tightness is new, though. Acuña said he feels it when he rotates his hips.

“I think highs and lows are going to happen, and I think you just got to keep focusing on your routine.

“First time for me,” Acuña said. “It just was a really strange thing, to be honest, something I wasn’t used to, just because it’s never happened before. The day before, I was feeling fine. But as far as (a) return, hopefully as soon as possible.”

Asked what the athletic training staff told him about Acuña on Friday, Snitker said: “Just that he can’t go. He just wasn’t well enough to go. We’ll just treat him up and hopefully he can tomorrow.”

In the last homestand, the outfielder went 7-for-23 with three doubles, two home runs and seven RBIs. He walked twice and struck out five times. He played terrific defense. He showcased all of his tools.

He looked like, well, Ronald Acuña.

This was, of course, a promising sign for the Braves, who hope to repeat as World Series champions this fall. They won without Acuña last year, but he is one of the sport’s top talents. The Braves are most dangerous when their superstar is at his best.

That cannot happen until Acuña overcomes his latest ailment.

“I think highs and lows are going to happen,” he said, “and I think you just got to keep focusing on your routine.”

The change in Elder

This Bryce Elder might be different than the one who debuted in April and spent a month with the Braves before they optioned him.

“Because I figured out that what I can do is what I can do – I’m not gonna be able to do any more by trying harder,” Elder said Friday. “So really, just kind of locking in on what I’m able to do and get ground balls and work through orders, and so that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Over four starts in April, Elder allowed 10 earned runs over 19 innings. He walked 14 batters while striking out 12.

In three spot starts since, Elder has allowed two earned runs over 18-2/3 frames. He has 22 strikeouts and seven walks. The competition has not been elite – Elder made two of those starts against Miami and the other versus the Nationals – but the righty is attacking much more consistently.

“When I was in the big leagues (in April), I was almost trying to pitch to the hitters rather than just pitching my game and kind of trusting what I’m doing,” Elder said. “Obviously, we’re going to look at a scouting report, and if we need to pitch to that we will, but that’s not the first thing I should go to. Down in Triple-A, I was just going out, throwing my stuff – no matter who it was against – and figured out that works at all levels, so I just got to continue to do it.”

For as long as he’s with the Braves, Elder gives the club a spot-starter option and a length guy out of the bullpen. He used his time at Triple-A Gwinnett to his advantage, and it is paying off.

He struggled to start.

After the Braves optioned him, Elder posted a 5.10 ERA over five starts in May. He had a 6.67 ERA over five starts in June. In those two months, he logged four starts in which he surrendered at least five earned runs.

Since the start of July, Elder has allowed more than three runs in a start once, including his time in the bigs.

“I’m for sure more confident, and confidence leads to execution, just because you believe that when you execute pitches, you got a chance against anybody,” Elder said.

Recent reliance on homers

The Braves did not hit a home run in Friday’s loss to the Phillies. For the first time since Sept. 25-28, 2019, Atlanta has gone three straight games without a homer.

The Braves are one of the sport’s top offenses – and maybe its best. One big reason: One through nine, they have home run threats. They also feature a few of baseball’s best sluggers.

The Braves have dropped the last seven games in which they failed to hit a home run.

“It’s kind of what we do,” Snitker said of hitting home runs. “I just said, too, it’s not a great way to live, but it’s kind of what we are. It’s tough to score for us when you don’t hit home runs.”