Braves’ Ronald Acuna looks right at home in leadoff spot

Ronald Acuna captured the imaginations of Braves fans Friday night, showcasing the five-tool potential that made him baseball’s top prospect.

Acuna reached base four times, including a double and a homer, and added two steals in an 8-5 win in Washington; one that dropped the Nationals below .500 at 48-49.

The Braves have tried and failed with several combinations atop the order. Acuna presented a solution, if only for one night. He ignited the offense, appearing as the dangerous table-setter the team simply hasn’t consistently had.

As manager Brian Snitker pointed out before the game, the 20-year-old hit leadoff for much of his minor-league career, and there’s an element of comfort that made it worth a dice roll.

“Every time I hit the field, I go out to have fun and do the best job that I can,” Acuna said through an interpreter. “I definitely felt more comfortable tonight. I was starting to feel more comfortable as the first half was coming to a close. I was working on some adjustments, mechanics in my swing. Fortunately I’ve been able to adapt and you can see the adjustments now.”

Acuna was 4-for-30 (.133) with 12 strikeouts over his past nine games entering the night. But he wasted no time finding a groove.

He opened the game with a single to center. He stole second, then scored on Ozzie Albies’ double. Albies stole third before scoring on Freddie Freeman’s grounder, though he left the game with hamstring tightness in the third frame, and is considered day-to-day.

“I just don’t get a little bit excited, I get really excited whenever I get the chance to hit either in front of him or behind (Albies),” Acuna said. “Just the way we both hit, the way we are on the bases together, the speed we bring on the bases.”

Acuna went on to double, hit a laser home run, draw a walk and swipe another bag. It was the dynamic, do-it-all performance that spectators came to expect from Acuna before he was injured May 27 and missed roughly a month.

Snitker stressed how important Albies was in the two-hole hitting in front of Freeman, so he wasn’t a serious consideration for leadoff. Nick Markakis is in the midst of a career-year hitting fourth, so the team didn’t want to disrupt what worked.

Enter Acuna, who replaced fellow outfielder Ender Inciarte at the top. Perhaps the Acuna-Albies combination becomes a winning one. Snitker lauded Acuna’s speed and power, characterizing him as the whole package.

“He kind of looked like he did in spring training,” Snitker said. “It was good. He set the table for us all night. It was really good. He had some really good at-bats. Kind of a different guy there. A lot of confidence and he swung that bat really well.”

In an ideal world, this move fits the “two birds with one stone” mold: The Braves find a lead-off man, and get their young star going in the process.