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Braves’ Ronald Acuna thinks end of his slump is near

Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna reacts to hitting a single during the sixth inning of an intrasquad game Saturday, July 18, 2020 in Atlanta. Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com
Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna reacts to hitting a single during the sixth inning of an intrasquad game Saturday, July 18, 2020 in Atlanta. Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna believes he’s close to snapping his season-opening slump.

Acuna is 4-for-24 with 13 strikeouts on the season. He has one extra-base hit, a double. It’s been an underwhelming start for one of baseball’s most exciting young talents, but small sample sizes are just that.

The Braves’ All-Star has company in his early struggles. Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich is 1-for-27 with 12 strikeouts. Reigning MVP Cody Bellinger of the Dodgers is hitting .192 entering Thursday. Cubs slugger Kris Bryant is 2-for-22 with 10 strikeouts.

But in a 60-game season, slow starts undoubtedly sting more. There’s an even higher urgency for correction. The Braves already are 10 percent through their season.

“I’ve been feeling good the last couple days,” Acuna said via team interpreter Franco Garcia. “To start the season, I didn’t feel like myself, or the level that I’m used to being. Baseball is a game of highs and lows, so you get used to it. The only thing I can control is my effort, so I’ll continue putting my best effort out there and control what I can control.”

Acuna went 1-for-3 with a walk in Wednesday’s win over Tampa Bay. His at-bats gave reason to believe he’s nearing a breakout, according to manager Brian Snitker and first baseman Freddie Freeman.

“I was really encouraged yesterday,” Snitker said. “Some of the at-bats yesterday. I told (hitting coach Kevin Seitzer), he looks – I’ll just say I was really encouraged.”

Freeman added: “Ronald was looking really good at the plate, so it’s a matter of time for my MVP pick to start going off here.”

Entering the season, Acuna was a trendy sleeper MVP pick. He finished fifth in voting last season behind Bellinger, Yelich, Anthony Rendon and Ketel Marte. It was his first full major-league season.

Acuna fell just shy of joining the illustrious 40-40 club. He belted 41 homers and stole 37 bases. Starring at the leadoff spot, Acuna hit .280 with a .883 OPS over 156 games.

The Braves’ greater issues involve pitching, but their offense has been up and down. They lead the majors with 74 strikeouts, which is a franchise record for the most through six games. Even at his best, Acuna will strike out – he did so 188 times last season, one behind the major-league most.

Whenever Acuna gets going, perhaps the Braves can finally see how potent their top four can be. Ozzie Albies is trying to work his way out of his own slow start, while Freeman’s four hits Wednesday seem to move him in the right direction. Clean-up hitter Marcell Ozuna has been brilliant thus far, leading the National League with five extra-base hits.