September 27, 2022

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LeBron signs off on Acuña's HR celebration

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Defense, Fried shine in Braves' win over Milwaukee
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ATLANTA — Ronald Acuña Jr. was a happy man after helping the Braves claim a 3-2 win over the Brewers on Saturday night at Truist Park. Along with homering for a second straight game, the enthusiastic outfielder was thrilled to have garnered a response tweet from his favorite basketball player, LeBron James.

“I’m just super excited, emotional and very happy,” Acuña said through an interpreter. “I would never imagine being tweeted at by him or retweeting about myself from him. I’m really excited.”

An evening filled with excitement was sparked with the emotions Acuña showed after he hit a fifth-inning home run off reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Corbin Burnes. The Braves outfielder took a couple of steps outside of the batter’s box and mimicked “The Silencer,” James’ popular move, by twice pushing his arms toward the ground like he was doing a pushup.

A little more than a week after returning from the torn right ACL he suffered 10 months ago, Acuña is again generating energy on a regular basis. The Braves are three games below .500, but they have been competing like reigning World Series champions by going 3-3 while playing the past six games against the NL East-leading Mets and NL Central-leading Brewers.

“Obviously, getting Acuña back is a huge deal for them,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “When you look at the team, the first thing I see is it’s just a very well-rounded team. It’s a good offensive team. It’s a good defensive team. There’s a good bullpen down there. There’s really good starters. They have a lot of ways to beat you and they’re going to win a lot of games.”

After winning last year’s World Series despite not having a winning record until August, the Braves know they have plenty of time to turn things around. Here are three takeaways from this latest win:

Strong as ever?
Burnes and Max Fried traded zeroes before Acuña recorded just the 12th homer the Brewers right-hander has surrendered over 205 2/3 innings going back to the start of 2021. The 420-foot solo shot came off the slugger’s bat at 107.2 mph and landed in the left-center-field seats.

Acuña began his two-hit game with a 107.3 mph single that caromed off the right-field wall perfectly enough to allow him to make it to second base. The Braves right fielder is 8-for-32 with two homers and a double since being activated from the injured list on April 28.

Though some initial rust might have been seen as Acuña played for the first time in nearly 10 months, his speed and power appear normal. Nine of the 18 balls he has put in play have had an exit velocity above 95 mph and six of those balls have been hit harder than 100 mph. His home run on Friday night came off the bat at 111.7 mph. He seems to be back where he was last year, when he ranked sixth among MLB players (min. 200 balls in play) with a 93.8 mph average exit velocity.

“I’ve been feeling good and I’ve been working hard to be able to feel good,” Acuña said. “What’s important to me is to be able to support the team.”

Web gems
Travis Demeritte may have had to learn a tough lesson after saying he was too tired to play on Wednesday afternoon after playing the entirety of a doubleheader on Tuesday. But the left fielder showed his will to win when he prevented two runs by diving to catch Christian Yellich’s two-out liner in the sixth.

Dansby Swanson started the inning with a great diving catch of Victor Caratini’s liner. Swanson also impressed by picking a Travis d’Arnaud throw to complete a strike-’em-out, throw-’em out play to end the game.

“You need to make great plays when you’re facing an opponent like that,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “It will get a team going and rolling.”

The stopper
As Fried was posting an MLB-best 1.74 ERA after last year’s All-Star break, he helped the Braves claim a fourth straight NL East title with a couple of huge starts down the stretch. He ended the team’s four-game losing streak with seven scoreless innings against the Giants on Sept. 19. Five days later, he began a six-game winning streak with a three-hit shutout in San Diego.

Fried limited the Brewers to one run over seven innings on Saturday to give him a 1.38 ERA over his past four starts. The Braves have bounced back from a loss to win each of these four games.

“He’s had a lot of big moments the last few years, too,” Snitker said. “I don’t think he’ll ever feel like he’s a finished product because there’s always things he can improve. Most of the great ones are like that.”

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