Braves Covering the Bases: Coping without Ronald Acuña Jr., Austin Riley returns and more (2024)

It was a painful week for the Atlanta Braves, who will be without the dynamic services of Ronald Acuña Jr. for the remainder of the season. Let’s explore the aftershocks in this Braves briefing, where The Athletic’s national reporters and columnists weigh in on Atlanta’s path ahead.

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Power rankings: Atlanta Braves are No. 5 (tie)

For this week’s Power Rankings, we focused on statistics where teams rank at the top or bottom of their league, if not all of baseball.

All stats are through Sunday’s games.

Record: 31-21 (entering play Wednesday night)
Last Power Ranking: 5

Superlative statistic:Lowest home-run rate for starting rotation in baseball


If you’re looking for a silver lining in the wake of Acuña’s latest knee injury, look elsewhere. It stinks for baseball. It stinksfor the Braves. And it is brutal for Acuña, who looked so dynamic last summer as hefound his footing after recoveringfrom a previous knee surgery. The baseball season marches forward, and Atlanta still has enough talent to win it all. (Just as they did sans Acuña in 2021.) The rotation has hung tough after Spencer Strider blew out his elbow. Chris Salelooks like the demonwho terrorized the American League last decade.Max Friedhas recovered from a sluggish start.Reynaldo Lópezhas been a gem since converting out of a relief role.Charlie Morton looks like he could do this until he’s 45. It’s a good club. Don’t sleep on them. — Andy McCullough

The latest hits

ICYMI, our national writers weighed in with what they are hearing and seeing

1. Ken Rosenthal on Acuña’s road ahead

Our senior baseball writer captured the heartache surrounding the devastating injury to the NL MVP.

The news that Acuña will undergoseason-ending surgery on his left knee is terrible for theBravesand terrible for baseball. But mostly, it is terrible for Acuña, a radiant star who again will be dimmed for too long.

When healthy in 2023, he was Acuña in full, producing an unprecedented 41-homer, 73-stolen base season, earning his first National League MVP Award by unanimous acclaim. His performance was all the more uplifting because it followed the same type of season-ending ACL injury in July 2021 to his other knee and a 2022 season in which he was still compromised physically. He made it back, all the way back. Offensively, defensively, on the bases, he was a sight to behold.

The easy thing to say to Acuña, using the vernacular of the day, would be, “You got this.” Which, as one of the best athletes in the world, he probably does. But let’s not forget how much the 2021 injury devastated him. His mother, Leonelis Blanco,told ESPN, “He cried every day. It wasn’t just every day. It was the whole day. He was distraught, crying, wondering about his leg.”


Acuña was 23 then. He is 26 now, married with two young sons, a veteran in his seventh season. Yes, he knows he will recover from this surgery, and what the recovery will entail. But that doesn’t make his path any easier. And it doesn’t change an increasingly depressing, what-might-have-been aspect of his career.

2. ‘Live fungo’ making Austin Riley even better

More from Rosenthal, this time with a behind-the-scenes look at the Braves third baseman:

Riley was an NL Gold Glove finalist last season at third base, and Braves people say his defense this season is even better. Riley (who returned Monday from a tight left intercostal muscle) attributes his improvement to a drill introduced by bench/infield coach Walt Weiss and third base coach Matt Tuiasosopo — “live fungo.”

In the drill, a coach stands in the batter’s box with a fungo bat, hitting flips from another coach to an infielder as hard as he can.

“I had never done it, never heard of it until this year,” Riley said. “You’re getting those true topspin, one-hopper, two-hoppers at third. I told Walt after we started doing it in spring, I didn’t know that was something I really needed. It has been a game-changer for me.”

Braves Covering the Bases: Coping without Ronald Acuña Jr., Austin Riley returns and more (2)

Austin Riley could have a Gold Glove Award in his future and called a new drill “a game-changer.” (John Jones / USA Today)

Weiss, a major-league shortstop from 1987 to 2000, said he adopted the drill from his playing days. He found it particularly valuable in spring training, when he might play five innings every other day and not get a grounder for two weeks.

“The spin off the bat is more game-like,” Weiss said. “Regular fungos are very vanilla.”

The Braves, Riley included,revere their previous infield coach, Ron Washington. Washington left after last season to become theLos Angeles Angelsmanager. Riley continues to refer to him as “the best.” But as Riley put it, “Different guys do different things, click different ways.”

“Live fungo” clicked for Riley. A Gold Glove could be next.


3. A shoutout to Truist Park at East-West Classic

Our Tyler Kepner headed to Cooperstown, N.Y., for a recreation of the East-West All-Star Game, a staple of the Negro Leagues for decades.

To CC Sabathia, engagement with Black fans is critical; he lauded the Braves, who have a Black-ownedvegan burger standat Truist Park, as an example of a team that does this well. But demographics in the seats often mirror those on the field.

“We would always try to see how many Black fans we could count that weren’t working — because sometimes you’d say, ‘Oh, wait, that’s a vendor,’” said Curtis Granderson, who played from 2004 to 2019. “In Detroit we’d get a lot of Black fans, but in some places we didn’t get that many. It was something we noticed.”

In the meantime, Major League Baseball said it is seeing progress from initiatives it sponsors: MLB Youth Academy, Breakthrough Series, DREAM Series, Nike RBI and the Hank Aaron Invitational. More than 25 percent of the Black players on Opening Day rosters took part in at least one of those programs, and 10 of the top 50 players in last year’s draft were Black.

Viral moment of the week

For all time, Hank Aaron will welcome generations of fans to the home of baseball.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is proud to dedicate a statue entitled Keep Swinging to one of baseball’s greatest ambassadors.

— National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum ⚾ (@baseballhall) May 23, 2024

Baseball beat

Our beat writer David O’Brien picked out what you need to know.

‘All we can do is go win it all for him’

The Acuña injury news obviously hit the Atlanta clubhouse hard. As Michael Harris II said: “There’s a lot of young kids and even adults out there that still want to dream that they’re like him one day.”

Resurgent Chris Sale, the return of Sean Murphy and more

Sale looks like a Cy Young Award candidate thanks to a 1.17 ERA during his seven-game winning streak, with 58 strikeouts and four walks in 46 innings.


Braves’ AJ Smith-Shawver looks improved before IL stint

Smith-Shawver showed he’s developing more than an electric fastball while working 4 1/3 innings of three-hit ball in the Braves’ 3-0 win against the Chicago Cubs in his season debut. Smith-Shawver, unfortunately, went on the 15-day injured list with a strained left oblique the day after that season debut.

Did you catch this?

Before pitching prospect Spencer Schwellenbach made his MLB debut Wednesday night, O’Brien helped readers get to know one of the most intriguing arms in the Braves system.

A native of Saginaw, Mich., Schwellenbach was a good shortstop at Nebraska and later added closing duties there. The Braves drafted him strictly as a pitcher and in the past two years have seen him develop his cutter, slider, curveball and changeup to complement a 96-98 mph fastball that he throws with pinpoint command. Since his promotion to Double A, he said he’s used his secondary pitches more than ever.

Welcome to the bigs, @spencerschwell!#BravesCountry

— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) May 29, 2024

He was ranked No. 2 among Braves prospects entering the season byThe Athletic’s Keith Law, who had him behind Hurston Waldrep and ahead of Smith-Shawver.

After posting a 2.49 ERA in 16 starts at the Low-A and High-A levels in 2023, with 55 strikeouts and 16 walks in 65 innings, Schwellenbach has a 1.80 ERA in eight starts this season in High A and Double A, with 51 strikeouts, 10 walks and one homer allowed in 45 innings.

The Braves love that he keeps the ball on the ground, racking up strikeouts and groundouts. They’re promoting him a little sooner than expected because he’s advanced quickly in his development and because they have a need.

Photo of the week

Sometimes, a picture is worth a thousand hurts. Here’s wishing a full and speedy recovery to one of the game’s most electrifying talents.

Braves Covering the Bases: Coping without Ronald Acuña Jr., Austin Riley returns and more (3)

Pirates starting pitcher Martín Pérez checks on Ronald Acuña Jr. during the fateful first inning Sunday in Pittsburgh. (Gene J. Puskar / Associated Press)

(Top photo of Austin Riley: Harry How / Getty Images)

Braves Covering the Bases: Coping without Ronald Acuña Jr., Austin Riley returns and more (2024)


Where did the Braves get Austin Riley? ›

The Atlanta Braves selected Riley in the first round, with the 41st overall selection, in the 2015 MLB draft. Though he was committed to Mississippi State Bulldogs baseball team, Riley chose to sign with the Braves for $1.6 million.

How many career stolen bases does Acuna have? ›

Ronald Acuña Jr. has 196 steals in his career.
Ronald Acuña Jr.162018
Ronald Acuña Jr.372019
Ronald Acuña Jr.82020
Ronald Acuña Jr.172021
3 more rows

Who is number 23 on the Braves? ›

Michael Harris II #23.

Who is number 27 on the Braves? ›

Austin Riley - Atlanta Braves Third Baseman - ESPN.

How many stolen bases does Riley have? ›

Rickey Henderson holds the MLB career stolen base record with 1,406. He is the only MLB player to have reached the 1,000 stolen bases milestone in his career. Following Henderson is Lou Brock with 938 stolen bases; Billy Hamilton is third on the all-time steals listing.

How fast can Austin Riley run? ›

It may be surprising, but Riley was actually quite swift on the base paths. If we look at his average sprint speed, we can see that he had a 28.1 ft/sec.

What team has the most stolen bases? ›

Since 1901, the 1911 New York Giants posted the highest total with 347 stolen bases. The 1976 Oakland A's had the second-most base stealers at 341.

Who has the Braves stolen base record? ›

Herman Long owns the Braves' franchise record with 433 steals. Hank Aaron owns the Modern Era (since 1900) franchise record with 240 stolen bases.

Who has the most stolen bases in MLB right now? ›

MLB Stat Leaders 2024
Stolen BasesSB
1 E. De La CruzCIN37
2 B. TurangMIL26
3 J. CaballeroTB23
4 B. Witt Jr.KC21
2 more rows

Who is the 17 year old Braves player? ›

Jose Perdomo, 17-year-old Venezuelan shortstop, agrees to $5 million signing bonus with Braves.

Who wore 33 for the Braves? ›

Brian Jordan wore #33 from 1999-2001 and again when he returned in 2005-2006. In his first stint, Jordan was a star, slashing . 281/. 334/.

Who is Braves 13? ›

Nike Men's Atlanta Braves Ronald Acuña Jr. #13 White Home Elite Jersey | The Market Place.

Who is number 77 on the Braves? ›

Joe Jiménez

Who is number 37 on the Braves? ›

Forrest Wall - Atlanta Braves Right Fielder - ESPN.

Who is 11 on The Braves? ›

Braves Roster & Staff
Ozzie Albies 1 B/T: S/R Ht: 5' 8" Wt: 165 DOB: 01/07/1997S/R5' 8"
Orlando Arcia 11 B/T: R/R Ht: 6' 0" Wt: 187 DOB: 08/04/1994R/R6' 0"
Matt Olson 28 B/T: L/R Ht: 6' 5" Wt: 225 DOB: 03/29/1994L/R6' 5"
Austin Riley 27 B/T: R/R Ht: 6' 3" Wt: 240 DOB: 04/02/1997R/R6' 3"
1 more row

What team drafted Austin Riley? ›

Austin Riley was chosen by the Atlanta Braves with the 41st overall pick in the 2015 MLB draft.

Why is Austin Riley ocho? ›

In baseball, it's not uncommon for teams to substitute a player who is stronger defensively in late innings to protect a lead or prevent a comeback from the opposing team. For Riley, this meant that he often found himself leaving the field in the eighth inning, earning him the nickname "eight" from his teammates.

Where did Boston Braves move to? ›

The dwindling fan support that caused the Braves to move from Boston also caused them to move from Milwaukee to Atlanta. That didn't mean the city of Milwaukee and State of Wisconsin would go down without a fight. After a series of court battles, injunctions and appeals, the team finally arrived in Atlanta in 1966.

Was Randy Johnson drafted by the Braves? ›

About Randy Johnson. Randy Johnson was an elite athlete who used his height to his advantage in both baseball and basketball. He turned down the Atlanta Braves after they drafted him in the fourth round in 1982, opting for a combination baseball/basketball scholarship at the University of Southern California.


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