Braves hope a breather is the answer for slumping Ronald Acuña Jr.

Atlanta Braves right fielder Ronald Acuña Jr. watches the action in the dugout during the third inning against the Chicago Cubs at Truist Park, Monday, May 13, 2024, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz / AJC)

Credit: Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

Atlanta Braves right fielder Ronald Acuña Jr. watches the action in the dugout during the third inning against the Chicago Cubs at Truist Park, Monday, May 13, 2024, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz / AJC)

Maybe two days off in a row is exactly what Ronald Acuña Jr. needs.

Stuck in a slump that has now covered a quarter of the season, Acuña was held out of the Braves’ Wednesday night home game against the Cubs by manager Brian Snitker.

It is a testament to the Braves’ depth that, following the 7-1 defeat to Chicago at Truist Park, they are 26-14 despite receiving puzzlingly meager contributions from the reigning National League MVP.

His batting average (.245), slugging percentage (.342) and home-run rate (one per 51.7 at-bats) are beneath the single-season lows in his seven-year career, and his on-base percentage (.354) is close.

He is whiffing at pitches he demolished a year ago, is squaring up balls at the lowest rate of his career and earlier this week was picked off in three consecutive times reaching first base.

Snitker informed Acuña on Tuesday after he went 0-for-5 that he was going to sit him down for Wednesday’s game. Along with the team’s off day Thursday, it would give him a chance to “detox,” in Snitker’s words, ahead of a four-game home series against the Padres.

Acuña is not accustomed to the bench; he loves the game so much that he has played in his native Venezuela each of the past two offseasons. But Snitker saw something in his star that he’d seen before.

“You can just read their faces sometimes, and actions,” Snitker said prior to the game. “And it’s like, ‘Well, it’s time.’ Kid needs a little breather here. He’s played every inning of every game. It’s not a bad thing to sit and watch sometimes.”

Two Braves coaches, bench coach Eddie Pérez and first-base coach Tom Goodwin, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution prior to Wednesday’s game that they believe that Acuña is pressing. To Goodwin, the pickoffs may have been the result of the superstar right fielder being overzealous on the base paths, venturing too far from first to try to make something happen.

“Sometimes, you force some things,” Goodwin told the AJC.

As the new first-base coach, Goodwin accepted responsibility for not communicating with Acuña to take safe leads off first.

“I have to be there to remind him of that, like it’s O.K. to not try to steal this base in this situation,” Goodwin said. “Just get back to being comfortable where you are.”

Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. (middle) grabs a ball teammates Matt Olson (Left) and Ozzie Albies can't reach on April 28, 2024, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

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Likewise, Pérez said he has seen Acuña trying to do too much.

“He wants to do good,” Pérez said. “He wants to do good for the team and things aren’t going his way.”

Acuña accepted the decision well, according to Pérez. He spent much of Wednesday’s game along the rail in the dugout, often in the company of designated hitter Marcell Ozuna. When position players returned from the field after the top of the first inning, he greeted them at the dugout steps. When catcher Travis d’Arnaud doubled in the second inning, Acuña was the first in the dugout to raise his hands and interlock his fingers in the team’s salute for base hits. His body language suggested that he was relaxed.

Snitker told him that he might end up playing but hoped to keep him out for the whole game to give him an entire day to relax. That he could do so was at least one positive for the Braves in their defeat.

“That’s big for guys, just a mental break and just sit and watch a game,” Snitker said. “A lot of times, they sit and watch and think, ‘Man, it’s not as hard as I’m making it.’”

Maybe no one is as familiar with a prolonged slump as Ozuna, who flailed through March/April 2023 before going on a tear that has continued into this season. He is also an astute observer of his teammates’ swings.

“He’s guessing too much right now,” Ozuna told the AJC after Wednesday’s game. “He doesn’t have his feeling in the box. He’s not on time right now. That’s why he feels the way that he feels. He’s going to be back.”

There is no secret or magical passage back. It’s work in the batting cage.

“He’s working every day,” Ozuna said. “Sometimes the game is not going the way that as a player we want it to be. So we have to slow down and be patient and it comes. That’s what they talked about me last year, 0-for-70 (only a slight exaggeration) and you saw how I finished.”

Whatever the reason – thinking aloud, Perez also guessed that the knee soreness that Acuña suffered in spring training (after tearing the ACL in the same knee in 2021) might be mentally affecting him – it is a precipitous slide for a player who is widely regarded among the best in the world.

For instance, Acuña is hitting .146, slugging .229 and failing to connect on 30.7% of his swings against four-seam fastballs. A year ago, the numbers were .305, .615 and 17.3%. However, he had struggled with the pitch in previous seasons. In 2020, for instance, it was .200, .378 and 37.3%.

Atlanta Braves' Ronald Acuña Jr. warms up before a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Los Angeles, Sunday, May 5, 2024. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

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He is doing some things right, it should be noted. His walk rate is up (12.7%) from last year, and despite his struggles getting on base, he is on pace to steal 58 bases.

The 2023 version of Acuña was an outlier in baseball history, the first to record 40 home runs and 70 stolen bases in a season.

We may never see it again, just as a second season of 54 home runs from Matt Olson may not be in the offing. But how close Acuña can get to that peerless standard, only the remaining 122 games can answer.

“Sometimes we put pressure on ourselves,” Ozuna said. “Sometimes we’re trying to go too hard and we’re trying to do the same thing we did the year before. When you’re trying to force the thing, it doesn’t go right. You have to let it go and then refresh yourself, clear your mind and start the season the day you don’t think about it and you go and play.”

Will Friday be Acuña’s opening day?

The Braves sure hope so.