MIAMI — After exiting Friday’s game because of right calf tightness, Ronald Acuña Jr. was not in Saturday’s lineup.
“His calf is still tight,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said before Saturday’s game at loanDepot Park. “This turf’s hard on them guys. We just don’t want to take any chances. We’re going to put him down today and get him treated up. I think he said he felt better when he woke up, but still, it was enough to take him out. We just don’t want to chance anything.”
The Braves on Wednesday clinched their sixth consecutive National League East crown. Three weeks from Saturday, they begin their NL Division Series at Truist Park.
There is a lot of time.
If the Braves were in a tight race would Acuña be playing through the tight calf?
“I don’t know, really,” Snitker said. “You know what? Probably not, honestly. That’s a touchy spot, man. That doesn’t heal quick. We’ll just err on the side of caution right there – especially on this surface.”
After Friday’s loss to the Marlins, Acuña said he first felt the right calf tightness after chasing down Jazz Chisholm Jr.’s seventh-inning single. Then it bothered him after his at-bat at the top of the eighth inning.
“I feel good,” Acuña said Friday night, through interpreter Franco García. “It just felt like a cramp. We’ll just see how I come in tomorrow and (how) I’m feeling, and if I play.”
Asked how concerned fans should be about this, he said: “I feel like independently of whatever’s happening, I wanna play and be in the lineup, despite whatever pain I’m going through. We’ll just see what the trainers have to say.”
The Braves will evaluate Acuña daily. The Braves play here again Sunday before heading home. They obviously are going to be extremely careful with him. Then again, Acuña is someone who loves baseball and will want to play when he can.
The loanDepot Park turf, which Snitker mentioned Saturday, is something the Braves factored in when working Acuña back into the fold last season. He tore his ACL at this ballpark in 2021.
Acuña might be the front-runner for the National League MVP award. At the end of August, he became the first player in MLB history to have at least 30 home runs and 60 stolen bases in a season. He has 37 and 66, respectively, now. His .337 batting average and 1.004 OPS rank second in the NL.
With Acuña out of the lineup, Snitker plugged in Michael Harris II as the leadoff man. Snitker said he feels fortunate to have a versatile option like Harris.
“I think Michael is at a point now where he could probably fill in anywhere in the lineup,” Snitker said before the game. “I think you could put him anywhere and he would probably profile really well, if you want to get right down to it. I think he’s kind of maturing into that, where I feel good with him anywhere in the lineup, honestly. I like seeing him come up. I just think he’s at that point now.”
In his first game in the leadoff spot this season, Harris went 3-for-5 with a double and a home run. He also scored two runs. And that double? It was almost a home run, and Harris hit it on the game’s first pitch.
“It was kind of cool to try to do what Ronnie does, try to make it 1-0 early in the game, but I came up a little short,” Harris said after the Braves’ 11-5 loss to the Marlins.
At 22 years old, Harris is batting .296 with an .824 OPS. He has 18 homers and 52 RBIs. He’s been baseball’s most impactful No. 9 hitter, mostly because he’s far better than your typical No. 9 hitter.
Yes, the Braves still are playing to win. They must capture home-field advantage throughout the entire postseason.
But they will not rush back Acuña, who might be their most important player. Thus, it’s nice for Snitker to be able to feel comfortable with Harris batting leadoff.
“It’s good to have that because a lot of times, you pull those guys out and then you’re kind of fighting with yourself to figure out who we’re gonna fill in,” Snitker said. “I feel good with him darn near anywhere in the lineup.”