The Braves got a huge boost today, with superstar outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. returning to the team and the lineup after an absence of over nine months due to an ACL tear last year. However, the club will still be trying to gradually ramp things up for him, according to David O’Brien of The Athletic, who relays word from manager Brian Snitker. Acuna will reportedly have something less than a full workload, getting occasional days in the designated hitter slot or sitting out day games after night games or missing games after playing and traveling the same day. This plan is intended to go until July 22, which is all fairly sensible given that Acuna is incredibly valuable to the team and is coming off a long layoff from a very serious injury. It’s worth pointing out, though, that Snitker also said the situation is fluid and will be re-evaluated daily. Acuna’s already beaten a timeline in his rehab once, as the club was targeting a May 6 return, but he’s back in the lineup tonight and has already stolen two bases, tying himself for the team lead on the year. No one should be surprised if he alters the plan and finds a way to take the reins off sooner rather than later. In fact, he might not even be aware of the plan, as he had this to say about the idea of him sitting on Friday: “I don’t know who said the plan was for me not to play. The way I’m looking at it is, I’m playing tomorrow. So I guess we’ll see what happens.” O’Brien later clarified that the club did tell Acuna about the plan, but he was too excited about his return to hear it. (Twitter links)
Some other health updates from around the league:
- Cardinals righty Jack Flaherty is making progress towards a return, as manager Oliver Marmol tells Jeff Jones of the Belleville News-Democrat that Flaherty will throw off a mound in the second week of May. He’s been dealing with an ailing shoulder since Spring Training began, the same shoulder that put him on the shelf for about a month last year. The club has been able to weather his absence so far, starting the season 11-7. The rotation has four pillars in Adam Wainwright, Miles Mikolas, Dakota Hudson and Steven Matz, but one wild card in Jordan Hicks. After working exclusively as a reliever since his MLB debut in 2018, Hicks has made two starts recently, throwing 46 pitches over 3 innings in the first outing, followed by 42 pitches over 2 innings in the second. Time will tell if this transition will work out, but there’s no question a healthy Flaherty will improve things, either by sending Hicks back to the bullpen or covering for an injury to someone else down the line. In 2019, he threw 196 1/3 innings with a 2.75 ERA, 29.9% strikeout rate and 7.1% walk rate, coming in fourth in NL Cy Young voting that year.
- It’s been almost a year since Kyle Lewis has played a major league game, with his last appearance coming May 31 of last year. A torn meniscus ended his season, with Lewis hitting many obstacles on the road to recovery since then. In a sign of progress, Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto tells Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times that Lewis is now participating in games at extended spring training, both playing in the outfield and slotting into the designated hitter role. None of the Mariners’ three regular outfielders are off to a blazing start to the season, as Julio Rodriguez, Jarred Kelenic and Jesse Winker each have a wRC+ between 54 and 77. (League average is 100.) Mitch Haniger was also off to a sluggish start before being sidelined by a positive Covid test. If Lewis can get back to his pre-injury form, he’d provide a boost to the lineup, as his career batting line is .258/.343/.450, 121 wRC+.