LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. — It appears the timing is there for Ronald Acuña Jr. Now it’s just about endurance and recovery. But if you ask him, there’s really not much doubt about those matters either.
Acuña, rehabbing from major knee surgery, went 2-for-5 with two strikeouts for Triple-A Gwinnett at Coolray Field in an 8-2 win over Norfolk on Wednesday night. It was the sixth game and first home game of his Minor League rehab assignment. Acuña tore his right anterior cruciate ligament in a game against the Marlins last July.
And as far as he’s concerned, if it could be his last rehab game, that would be just fine.
“If it was up to me, I’d be ready tomorrow,” Acuña said via Gwinnett hitting coach Carlos Mendez, who translated for him. “But whenever they say it, I’ll be there. It’s their call; it’s not my call.”
The two-time National League All-Star played all nine innings in right field, after not going more than six in his previous three rehab starts. He’s slated to take another step forward on Thursday, when he will play the field on consecutive days for the first time since before the injury.
The stated target date for Acuña’s return to the Braves is May 6, a week from Friday, when Atlanta begins a homestand against the Brewers. That’s not set in stone — nothing in an injury rehab ever is — but there’s nothing in Acuña’s progress that would indicate it’s unlikely. And if he continues to feel as good as he does right now, it wouldn’t be shocking if his return was sooner rather than later.
“I’ve been feeling ready for like two weeks,” he said, “but it’s things I can’t control. Whenever the medical staff and [the Braves] decide, I’ll be ready to go.”
There was no frustration or impatience in those words, to be clear. But Acuña’s performance thus far more or less matches his words. He’s seeing the ball well and moving without tentativeness.
Acuña announced his arrival quickly on Wednesday, lining the first Norfolk pitch of the night to left field for a solid single. He also struck out twice, grounded into a fielder’s choice and stroked a second line-drive single. In six games with Gwinnett, he’s 7-for-19 (.368) with a double, six walks, and six strikeouts.
And he said his timing and feel at the plate matched those solid results.
“I feel really good, actually,” he said. “I feel better than I was earlier.”
He made one putout and fielded several base hits over six innings in right field. Perhaps the most noteworthy sign actually came on the fielder’s choice. With a runner on first base in the fourth inning, Acuña hit a ball to the left side. Tyler Nevin fielded it and fired to second instead of first, but Acuña humped it up the line without tentativeness or hesitation, looking very much like, well, a baseball player.
“No hesitation,” he said. “If I’m playing, it’s because they feel I’m ready to go, and I feel good.”