The Atlanta Braves picked up a pair of split squad victories today, with both wins coming against the Minnesota Twins. The big story of the day was Ronald Acuña Jr. once again showing glimpses of a return to the form that made him one of the top players in all of baseball before his knee injury.
The first major glimpse came during the bottom of the third inning of the home split of Atlanta's spring training action today. That was when Acuña hit a liner to left field that eluded Kyle Garlick's glove and went off the fence. That gave Acuña the opportunity to turn on the jets and blaze across the basepaths and into third base for a triple.
That's usually enough excitement for one day of spring ball but fortunately for us fans, Ronald Acuña Jr. wasn't done putting on a show. In the very next inning, Acuña returned to the plate against Aaron Sanchez and got a pitch that he liked. He liked this pitch so much that he sent the ball clear out of the ballpark and soaring through the clear blue Florida sky. There's been a lot of talk about Acuña's batted ball profile needing to return to where it was before his unfortunate injury a while back. If this performance is any indication, it's looking like the old Ronald Acuña Jr. may be returning to a major league ballpark near you.
As far as pitching performances were concerned, there was a lot of good work on display from the hurlers who took the mound for the Braves today. Max Fried went three innings and struck out five while only giving up two hits and two unearned runs. Those came on a dinger from Kyle Garlick, who will choose to remember this part of the day instead of the part I mentioned from earlier. Meanwhile, Kyle Wright got knocked around a little as he gave up two homers on five hits for three runs over four innings of work. He did strike out four batters while only giving up a walk, so he'll likely focus on that instead of dwelling on the mistakes that led to those home runs.
The relief work from the Braves was lights out on both fronts. In North Port, Joe Jiménez gave up a manufactured run after the Twins turned two walks, a stolen base, an error from Sean Murphy on the throw (which will hopefully be a rare occurrence in the regular season) and a ground out into a run. Later on in the game, Collin McHugh gave up his run the old-fashioned way by simply having the Twins get three hits on him. Other than that and a ninth-inning tally from the Twins to make the scores identical in both games, those were the only runs that Atlanta's bullpen gave up either in North Port or Fort Myers. Nick Anderson, Dylan Lee, Jesse Chavez, Kirby Yates and a few other pitchers all took the mound and each of them left the mound without giving up a run against Minnesota.
As you can imagine with both teams putting nine runs on the scoreboard today, Atlanta's offense didn't have too much trouble dealing with Minnesota's pitching today. In the Fort Myers game, Marcell Ozuna hit a big fly ball to right-center that maybe would've gone over the fence if the wind had continued to swirl in his favor. Instead, it landed at the base of the wall for an RBI double that put the Braves ahead in that contest. It ended up being a lead that the Braves held for good after Atlanta broke it up and had themselves a six-run inning in the fifth.
Back in North Port, Ronald Acuña Jr. wasn't the only one who set the base paths on fire following a triple. Ozzie Albies joined him in that category once the seventh inning rolled around, which is when Albies hit a gapper that went to the fence in right-center and allowed Albies to burn rubber on his way to third base. Ozzie's triple made it 8-4 at the time, and then a ground out from Forrest Wall made it the eventual final score of 9-4.
Forrest Wall in particular had himself a big day, as his seventh-inning RBI was his fourth of the day. He also added to that by making a great catch at the wall to rob Ryan Lamarre of a homer — a catch that had color commentator and former Braves reliever Peter Moylan thinking that Wall had clinched his spot on the team with his performance today.
It's safe to say that this was about as exciting as spring training action gets. While there are no guarantees about these types of performances carrying over from spring training to the regular season, it's still exactly the type of results that you want to see at this point in their preparation.
They'll be playing games that count by this time next week, so you'd much rather see the team going into those games on a high note instead of limping and trudging their ways through the doldrums of spring training. If anything, they're sprinting and striding their way through the tail end of camp and as of right now, this looks like a team that's ready to tackle the rigors of another long baseball season.