Acuna out of lineup, might play Sunday

The Braves signed top prospect Ronald Acuna, of Venezuela, in 2014.

Less than 18 hours after pulling Ronald Acuna from a game when the prized rookie felt tightness in his left groin while beating out an infield single, Braves manager Brian Snitker wasn’t going to play him Saturday afternoon against the Brewers, regardless of how Acuna said he felt after arriving at Miller Park. Yes, Snitker mentioned the possibility to reporters after Friday’s game that Acuna might be ready to play Saturday, but in reality that was just to emphasize the point that the injury wasn’t serious.

So to the surprise of almost no one, Acuna wasn’t in the lineup Saturday for the third game of the series at Miller Park. But Snitker said there was a good chance he will play Sunday, and this time it felt like the manager meant it.

Though the Braves have an off day Monday and normally would take advantage of that situation by resting a player another day (Sunday) to effectively given him three days to heal completely, Acuna’s issue seemed so relatively minor that Snitker might actually play him Sunday in the final game of a 10-game trip that started splendidly for the Braves but changed course in the Bronx.

“I assume he’ll be OK tomorrow, and he’s available (if needed) today,” Snitker said before Saturday’s game. “Everything he’s been through, I just didn’t want to push it and take a chance if we don’t have to right now. ... It might be that if he gets in here tomorrow and the trainers don’t think he can go, then we’ll take advantage of that off day. But right now I think after today he should be good to go, I hope.”

As for that possibility he mentioned late Friday that Acuna, 20, might be back in the lineup Saturday, Snitker confided, “I had already made the decision even if he came in and said he felt great, I wasn’t going to play him today. But I talked to him and it’s a little stiff. I don’t think it’s anything that a guy couldn’t play through, just don’t want to take a chance with him.”

Ronald Acuna walks to the dugout with a trainer after feeling tightness in his groin running out an infield hit in the seventh inning Friday. (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)

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Acuna returned from the disabled list at the beginning of this trip after he was sidelined one month for a sprained ACL in his left knee, along with knee and lower-back contusions. Those resulted from a fall after crossing first base on an infield hit at Boston. On Friday, he briefly stumbled coming out of the batter’s box on his bases-loaded infield hit in the seventh inning.

He quickly regained his balance and dashed toward first base, but said felt his groin tighten after about the first three or four steps. Snitker and a trainer visited with him briefly at first base, but as soon as the manager heard mention of groin tightness, he knew he was bringing in a pinch-runner, and soon the trio headed to the dugout while Charlie Culberson replaced Acuna at first base.

Dansby Swanson followed with a two-run single, but the rally fizzled when Danny Santana struck out with two runners in scoring position and Ender Inciarte and Ozzie Albies each grounded out to end the inning with the Braves still trailing 5-4, which was the final score.

It was the season-high fourth consecutive walk for the Braves after they won the first four games of the trip, including a sweep at St. Louis and a win in Monday’s series opener at Yankee Stadium that was decided by Acuna’s 11th-inning two-run homer, making him the youngest Brave to hit a game-winning homer in extra innings for the Braves since Andruw Jones in 1997.

Acuna is 8-for-31 (.258) with two doubles, two homers, six RBIs, one walk, 12 strikeouts and an .819 OPS in eight games since returning from the DL.

He’s probably the fastest player on the team and one of the fastest in the National League, but Acuna has had a few conspicuous stumbles or missteps running the bases since he was called to the majors in late April. Perhaps it’s youthful enthusiasm, or his noticeable forward lean when excelling to top speed. Or, the exuberance he showed initially when signaling “safe” on close plays at first, plays such as the one at Boston. There he decelerated too quickly after crossing the base -- he used to do that a lot, too -- and his left cleat stuck in the dirt on the next step after making that sign with his arms, sending him tumbling.

Snitker was asked about that subject Saturday and acknowledged Acuna’s occasional stumbles.

“It’s almost like he’s too fast,” he said. “I don’t know, maybe as he plays and does this more, he’ll be come more under control or whatever. But he does; he has that gear that I guess he hasn’t throttled it yet, I don’t know. (Snitker laughs). Shoot, if I was that fast I’d want to be running like that, too. I’d love to be able to experience that sometime. I never will, but. ... That was kind of the one thing, in talking to guys that had him the last couple of years (in the minors), he’s not a finished product on the bases yet. He’s still learning how to do that. So there’s going to be a lot of parts of his game where he’s going to have to get on-the-job training and learn here.

“Obviously he’s been better at going right through the bag (at first base). He’s been real good about that. They’re telling me, too, that Statcast shows he’s running faster now than he did before he got hurt. So that’s a good sign also that everything’s OK.”