Ronald Acuna sure knows how to announce his returns.
For the second time since Aug. 26, Acuna homered in his first at-bat back from injury. And like the last time, he did it to begin a doubleheader. The eventual result: a 7-1 Braves’ win Friday over the Nationals in Game 1.
The Braves didn’t fare as well in Game 2, however, losing 10-9 to snap their five-game winning streak. Both contests were seven innings in accordance with MLB’s doubleheader rules for the 2020 season.
Acuna opened the afternoon with a home run to center, his first of two off Nationals starter Austin Voth. Acuna didn’t think it would carry out, slamming his bat in disgust before the ball floated over the wall. The blast tied Acuna with Felipe Alou for the most leadoff homers in team history (17).
“I definitely thought it was a flyout because I know how I hit the ball and I’ve hit it harder before, so that wasn’t necessarily the best I’d ever gotten it,” Acuna said via team interpreter Franco Garcia. “I saw it carrying and carrying, so I started picking up the pace a bit and running harder.”
The 22-year-old added a two-run homer in the fourth. It was his second multi-homer game this season, both of which came in doubleheaders. He also homered in Game 2.
“He’s got a way of doing that,” manager Brian Snitker said of Acuna’s knack for producing in his returns. “Some of them are chosen, that’s for sure.”
Acuna has seven homers (10 hits), 10 RBIs and nine runs scored in six doubleheader games this season. The Braves are 5-1 in such games.
Game 1 was the first game Acuna has played since Sunday, when he left early because of hamstring tightness. Acuna was in his fifth game since returning from wrist inflammation that sidelined him for 11 games in August. He returned Aug. 26, homering off Gerrit Cole in his first at-bat and helping the Braves sweep the Yankees.
“It feels good to feel like yourself,” Acuna said. “It’s nice to have things go your way when you’re feeling good and expecting them to. I’m just trying to do my best to contribute to the team winning. That’s always my primary focus.”
Even with the split, the defending-champion Nationals are closer to the No. 1 overall pick in the draft than a spot in the expanded postseason field. Washington is 13-24, having lost 10 of 12 games. It trails the Braves by 9-1/2 games in the National League East.
Notes from Game 1:
- This was the Tommy Milone that the Braves expected when they acquired him from the Orioles last weekend. The lefty allowed one run on six hits over four innings. He struck out three and notably didn’t issue a walk.
Milone’s debut Sunday was bad, but it also was under less-than-ideal circumstances, given that he was traded earlier in the day and flew from Buffalo to Philadelphia for the start. He looked much more comfortable Friday, pitching around danger and forcing the Nationals to put the ball in play.
“I tried to reset, not think about (the last start) and be the pitcher I know that I am,” Milone said. “That last game wasn’t indicative of the kind of pitcher I am. ... There was honestly a bunch of people who came up to me - they knew the situation I was coming into - and it made it easier. It seemed like everyone had my back and knew it probably wasn’t the best scenario. Just forget that one and go about your business, do your daily routines and get back after it in five days and be comfortable again.”
- Helping Milone’s case was Adam Duvall, who robbed Yan Gomes of a home run in the fourth. After Asdrubal Cabrera tripled to start the inning, Gomes appeared to cut the Braves’ 3-0 lead to a run, but Duvall leaped and caught the ball over the left-field wall, leaving Gomes with a sacrifice fly.
“That was a big catch,” Snitker said. “He’s made a few of those, too. He’s a very good outfielder.”
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
- Shortstop Dansby Swanson, who moved to the second spot in the order with Acuna’s return, hit a two-run homer in the third off Voth. He added an RBI single in the sixth.
Entering the day, Swanson was 25-for-75 (.333) with three home runs, seven doubles and seven RBIs in his past 17 games. Tack on another two hits, including the homer, and three RBIs from the first game Friday.
- First baseman Freddie Freeman singled in the first inning to extend his hitting streak to 17 games. He went 1-for-4 in Game 1.
Notes from Game 2:
- Freeman did more than just extend his hitting streak to 18 games in Game 2. He hit his first career grand slam in the fourth inning – his 105th plate appearance with the bases loaded – that helped the Braves rally from a 7-3 deficit.
- Starter Huascar Ynoa was tagged for six runs in 2-1/3 innings, helping the Braves fall into a 7-3 deficit. Despite rallying back, shortstop Trea Turner hit a go-ahead homer off Will Smith in the sixth that gave the Nationals a permanent lead. It was the fifth homer Smith has allowed in nine appearances.
- The seventh inning got away from the Braves. They turned to Patrick Weigel, making his major-league debut as the appointed 29th man for the doubleheader. The rookie couldn’t hold the game at 8-7. Three of the first four Nationals reached against Weigel, who went on to allow two runs on two hits while walking three.
Utilityman Charlie Culberson relieved Weigel with the bases loaded and two out. Culberson got Turner to fly out to right, ending the inning. The Braves scored a pair in the seventh via Travis d’Arnaud’s homer, but they couldn’t complete another comeback.
As for why Weigel was put into that spot, the Braves used Darren O’Day, Shane Greene and A.J. Minter in Game 1. The players were warming up before the Braves fully built their six-run lead, Snitker said, so he wanted to use them.
Luke Jackson, Grant Dayton and Smith pitched in Game 2 before Weigel.
“If you warm somebody up, you might as well pitch them because you’re not going to do it again,” Snitker said. “Even when Tommy left the game, it was what, 3-1? If I could look into a crystal ball and see we were going to score all those runs, then I wouldn’t warm the other guy up. But we didn’t know that. And I didn’t know what was going on this game so we wanted to nail that one down too if we could.”
- The Braves and Nationals continue their series Saturday, when Max Fried faces Erick Fedde. The Braves are in a stretch where they’ll play the Nationals in eight of 11 games.