Ronald Acuña Jr. four-hit game, Braves same streak with Mets

NEW YORK — The Braves’ outfield this year is very different from the one that helped them win a World Series last year. But with Ronald Acuña Jr. and Eddie Rosario back to doing what they do, it looks like the Atlanta outfielders could once again be a group of difference makers.

With help from all three outfielders, Atlanta built a comfortable lead and rebounded from a series-opening loss to claim a 9-6 win over the Mets on Friday night at Citi Field. Rosario hit a three-run homer in the first, Michael Harris II homered in the second and Acuña had a nice catch before tying a career high with four hits, including the 500th of his career.

“I think we have the potential to have one of the best outfields in the league,” Acuña said.

The Braves snapped a two-game skid and moved within 3½ games of the lead in the National League East. They’ll play a doubleheader on Saturday, then wrap up a five-game series against the Mets, opening Sunday afternoon.

Acuña said the loud crowd created a post-season feel. He and Rosario responded to teasing from fans in the outfield by playfully turning and pointing their respective ring fingers. Harris enjoyed the interactions and showed no signs of being fazed playing in New York for the first time.

“It looks like the kid has a slow heartbeat all the time, which is a good thing,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He has all the great qualities you want to see in a kid when you’re going to play big games all the time.”

Without the big defensive contributions from the outfielders, Ian Anderson’s last bad start could have been a disaster. Anderson took an 8-0 second lead and ended up allowing four runs on seven hits and four walks in 4 2/3 innings. The right-hander can only hope to turn things around, much like Acuña and Rosario did.

Needless to say, it was the perfect time for Acuña to get back to showing how he can do great things with his bat and glove. The three-time All-Star ended the second-longest homer streak of his career on Thursday, then extended the momentum with four singles on Friday.

Acuña’s most impressive contribution came when he jumped up, stretched his glove over the right field wall and prevented what could have been Pete Alonso’s 30th home run. The first-inning grab showed he was growing more confident with his right knee, which was surgically repaired after tearing his right ACL as he attempted to play close to the right-field wall at LoanDepot Park on 10 July 2021.

“It’s good for him to experience that, and I can see his engine starting to work offensively as well,” Snitker said.

Acuña was productive in the first 30 games after being activated from the injured list in late April, then produced a .580 OPS in the 38 games immediately preceding this series. Those struggles weren’t as significant as the ones Rosario has had — he went 3 for 44 to start this season, then had laser surgery to fix a swollen retina and blurred vision in his right eye.

Rosario saw the ball very well on Friday, drilling a three-run homer in the first four-run, then adding an RBI brace in the second. The 2021 NLCS MVP has hit .344 with a double, triple and home run in his last nine games. The Braves acquired Robbie Grossman at the trade deadline, but Rosario will remain the primary left fielder if he extends that production.

While Rosario, Jorge Soler, Joc Pederson and Adam Duvall were the Braves’ outfielders in last year’s playoff walk, Harris was resting at the end of his first full season in the Minor League. Now the 21-year-old outfielder looks like a seasoned veteran.

Harris threw 92.2 mph that denied Luis Guillorme’s attempt to score from second on Brandon Nimmo’s two-out single in the second. The center fielder also homered to start the start of the same inning. He now stands with Acuña (12), Eddie Mathews (12), Jeff Francoeur (11), Bob Horner (11) and Jason Heyward (10) as the only Braves 21 or younger to hit at least 10 homers in the during their first 60 careers. Games.

“To be honest, this kid is everything and he can do anything,” Acuña said.

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