Thursday night the defending World Series champion Atlanta Braves welcomed superstar outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. back to the lineup for the first time since he tore the ACL in his right knee last July 10. Acuña was activated earlier than expected (the Braves were reportedly targeting early May), but he felt good during his minor league rehab assignment, so Atlanta brought him back.
“It feels like getting called up to the big leagues again,” Acuña told MLB.com’s Mark Bowman prior to Thursday’s game. “… “Obviously, I want to be the baseball player I’ve always been. I want to be the player that goes out there, plays hard, and tries to have a good experience with the fans.”
Acuña, who is still only 24, was of course given a standing ovation prior to his first at-bat. He went 1 for 5 with a clean single to right field from his customary leadoff spot in his 2022 debut. Acuña also stole two bases, which is not something you expect from a player coming off a torn ACL. He did say he wants to be the same player he was before the injury though.
Prior the injury last season Acuña was an MVP candidate, if not the frontrunner. He owned a .283/.394/.596 batting line with 24 home runs and 17 stolen bases in 82 games. The 2018 Rookie of the Year received MVP votes every year from 2018-20 and flirted with a 40/40 season in 2019 (41 homers and 37 steals).
The Braves were 4 1/2 games back in the NL East and seven games back of a wild card spot when Acuña suffered his injury last season. GM Alex Anthopoulos responded by aggressively remaking his outfield at the trade deadline, picking up Adam Duvall, Joc Pederson, NLCS MVP Eddie Rosario, and World Series MVP Jorge Soler in separate deals.
Including Thursday’s win (ATL 5, CHC 1), the Braves are 9-11 in the early going this season. Their outfielders were hitting a combined .193/.262/.340 going into Thursday, so they certainly need Acuña’s production.
Acuña went 7 for 19 (.368) with a double and three stolen bases in six Triple-A rehab games prior to being activated.