ATLANTA (AP) — Ronald Acuña Jr. was taking part in the “Call of Duty” video game when he got an unexpected FaceTime call at 1 a.m.
Atlanta Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos wanted to know if Acuña was ready to play.
Not another rehab game in Triple-A, mind you.
Anthopoulos was talking about a return to the big leagues.
“Oh yeah,” Acuña replied. “Let’s go! Right now!”
One of baseball’s most dynamic players came off the injury list Thursday, a week ahead of schedule and less than 10 month after he sustained a major knee injury.
Acuña was immediately inserted into the Braves lineup, taking his familiar leadoff spot and playing right field against the Chicago Cubs. He received a big ovation from the Truist Park crowd as he headed to right, and another standing ovation when he batted for the first time in the majors in 292 days.
Acuña took the first pitch from former teammate Drew Smyly for a ball, and then grounded out to third base.
“It really was a long, difficult process,” Acuña said before the game. “I’m just really excited to be back.”
The Braves are certainly excited to have him back. The reigning World Series champions are off to a sluggish start, winning just eight of their first 19 games and already falling 5 1/2 games behind the NL East-leading New York Mets.
Acuña was one of the league’s leading MVP contenders when he completely tore the ACL in his right knee last July 10 when he landed awkwardly while attempting to make a catch on the warning track at Miami’s Marlins Park.
At the time, he was hitting .283 with 24 homers, 52 RBIs, 17 stolen bases and a .990 OPS in 82 games.
“What he can do offensively, defensively, on the bases, he’s a game changer,” said third baseman Austin Riley, who was one of the players who came up big for the Braves after Acuña went down. “To have him back in the lineup is huge.”
Acuña had tears in his eyes when he was carted off the field in South Florida.
He was nothing but smiles Thursday, arriving at the ballpark wearing a yellow Atlanta Hawks jersey with Trae Young’s name and No. 11 on it.
Young was one of the athletes who texted Acuña to wish him well in his return to the Braves.
It was initially thought the Braves would limit Acuña to designated hitter duties early in his return, lessening the chances of reinjuring the knee, but his performance at Triple-A Gwinnett eased any concerns.
Acuña was 2 for 5 in his final game of the rehab stint Wednesday night and hit .368 with three stolen bases in six Triple-A games.
“He’s done everything,” supervisor Brian Snitker stated. “He’s stolen bases, he is diving again into bases, he is sliding, he is made performs within the outfield There’s no limitations in any respect.”
The solely concession to the harm might be Acuña’s schedule. He will not play on days the Braves journey, and he will not play day video games after evening video games. Also, he’ll be restricted to proper discipline when he performs the sphere — no extra heart discipline, at the least for now — and the common DH provides the Braves some flexibility to maintain him within the lineup with out having to select up a glove.
Snitker stated the present plan is to present Acuña common days off till he is a full yr faraway from the harm in July.
Of course, that would change if he experiences no setbacks. Already, his projected return to the Braves was pushed up from the May 6 date the workforce initially set.
Even if he is not in a position to play every single day, Acuña’s mere presence needs to be an enormous increase to the struggling Braves. He’s a two-time All-Star who received Rookie of the Year honors in 2018 and adopted up with 41 homers, 101 RBIs and 37 stolen bases in 2019.
Acuña was on the way in which to a different stellar season when he tore up his knee, which meant he may solely watch because the Braves — after spending a lot of the season underneath .500 — improbably captured their first World Series title since 1995.
He is raring to be a part of a championship on the sphere.
“It motivates me for this year, and will motivate me for years to come,” Acuña stated via interpreter Franco Garcia. “Obviously, it’s not the same being able to play in the 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 a World Series.”
He added, confidently, “There will be more World Series to come.”
If something, Acuña’s feels he is gotten even sooner than he was earlier than the harm. He hopes to be much more of a risk on the basepaths.
“Throughout the entire rehabilitation process, there was an added focus on my legs and developing those muscles,” he said. “I think I can add speed there. I’m coming in with the intention of running a little bit more.”
The Braves designated outfielder Alex Dickerson for task to clear a spot on the energetic roster.
The resolution to reinstate Acuña may have been motivated by dropping Eddie Rosario for eight to 12 weeks. Rosario, the MVP of the NL Championship Series final season, had a laser process on Wednesday to appropriate blurred imaginative and prescient and swelling in his proper eye.
The Braves went into the finale in opposition to the Cubs on the lookout for their first sequence win of the season.
Acuña stated he is not involved about Atlanta’s gradual begin.
“It’s not how you start,” he stated. “It’s how you finish.”
For Acuña, it starts now.
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