“It felt just like when I got the call to the big leagues. Same exact feeling,” Ronald Acuña Jr. said about what it felt like to return to the major league roster for the first time since suffering a torn ACL last July. He said that he was in his room playing Call of Duty when he got the call from Alex Anthopoulos who told him he was returning Thursday.
Acuña’s return will add a big piece back to the Braves’ lineup and will perhaps be the jolt they need after a tough start to the season. Acuña met with the media prior to Thursday’s game and talked about his long road back.
“It really was a long, difficult process, but I look at it as positive,” Acuña said. “Thanks to the fans, the staff, coaches, the players the entire Braves organization for all their support during this entire time. I’m just really excited to be back.”
The timeline has fluctuated slightly for Acuña who was originally scheduled to return on May 6. He said that he felt like he was ready to play a nine inning game during the second week of spring training, but you can’t fault the Braves for taking a more measured approach.
“I would say probably around the second week of spring training,” Acuña said. “I felt like I could go out there and play in a nine inning game, but you know, a lot of thought goes into those decisions. It wasn’t my decision to make and all I could control was being ready for whenever that time comes whenever they told me that it was time to go.”
Brian Snitker said that they made the decision to activate Acuña after Wednesday’s game. He played all nine innings Wednesday for Gwinnett and has shown no ill-effects from the injury during his rehab stint.
“We talked after the game and after he got done with with the nine innings,” Snitker said. The reports we got and talking to the medical staff, they all signed off. They said if he’s gonna play nine tonight in Gwinnett he might as well play here. We were going to take him to Texas with us anyway, but everything worked really well.”
Acuña was on his way to an MVP caliber season in 2021 and was hitting .283/.394/.596 with 24 home runs and a 157 wRC+. He also had 17 stolen bases and said Thursday that the recovery process might have made him even faster.
“I would say my speed,” Acuña answered when asked what area of his game might have improved during his time out. “With the added focus on strengthening my legs throughout the entire rehabilitation process, there was an added focus on my legs and developing those muscles. So I think there’s a chance I added speed there and I’m coming in with the intention of running a little bit more.”
Snitker said that he wasn’t surprised about Acuña’s claim of added speed. He added that there won’t be any restrictions on him when he returns to the field tonight. Acuña certainly wasn’t holding anything back while at Gwinnett and was stealing bases and even scored from second on an infield single. While he won’t have any limitations while he is on the field, Snitker said that the team will use him as the DH at times and will limit his playing time on travel days and day games after a night game.
“He’ll play tonight, won’t play tomorrow,” Snitker said. “He won’t play like on the travel days and he won’t play a day after night game as far as that recovery goes.”
Acuña flashed his trademark smile throughout the press conference. He said that missing last season’s World Series win provides motivation for this year and year’s to come.
“It motivates me for this year and it motivates me for years to come,” Acuña said. “It’s obviously not the same, being able to play in a World Series as it is to just watch it from the dugout nursing an injury. That’s obviously the dream that every kid has growing up wanting to play in the World Series and there’ll be more World Series to come.”
Manny Piña to the injured list
The Braves placed Manny Piña on the injured list due to inflammation in his wrist. Piña was hit in the wrist during his last start and Snitker said he was hit again in Wednesday’s game while warming up a pitcher between innings.
“It is the same wrist thing that he had,” Snitker said of Piña. “He got popped the last night warming a guy up between innings and he got beat up pretty good when he caught Sunday too.”
William Contreras was recalled to take Piña’s spot on the roster. He will share the field for the first time at the major league level with his brother Willson. Snitker said that William and Willson will present the lineup cards at home plate prior to Thursday’s game.
Ozzie Albies drops to fifth in the order
With Acuña back in the lineup, Ozzie Albies drops from the leadoff spot to fifth in the order. Acuña’s return sets up a pretty impressive top five of the order.
“Ozzie can be five, six, whatever and put him in an opportunity to drive some runs in also, I think it’s good,” Snitker said. “When you have to navigate that top half four times that’s pretty big.”