|Braves, newcomer Acuna face Reds' Bailey|
The Atlanta Braves, off to an encouraging but not overwhelming start, decided to speed up the timetable a little and push the future of the franchise into the present.
Ronald Acuna Jr., rated the majors' best prospect by multiple scouting outlets and the winner of multiple minor league player of the year awards last season, is a minor leaguer no more.
Acuna, called up from Triple-A Gwinnett, moved into the Braves' lineup batting sixth and playing left field Wednesday night in Cincinnati. He is expected to be there again Thursday when the Braves and Reds close out their four-game series at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.
He has made an immediate impact. Acuna singled for his first major league hit in the eighth inning and went on to score the tying run. He finished 1-for-5, with one long fly ball out. The Braves rallied with single runs in the eighth and ninth off Reds reliever Kevin Shackelford to win 5-4.
Acuna Jr., rated as the rare five-tool player who can run, hit for average and power, field and throw, won't need long to get a look at what a top-level major league starting pitcher looks like. If he's in the lineup Thursday, he'll face Reds right-hander Homer Bailey (0-3, 3.68 ERA), who is winless in five starts this season yet has thrown two no-hitters in the majors.
Acuna's spring training numbers (.432, four home runs, 11 RBIs) further solidified his status as the top prospect coming into this season other than pitcher-outfielder Shohei Otani of the Los Angeles Angels.
"I didn't know what to think when I got the call to the big leagues," Acuna Jr. said through an interpreter upon arriving to the ballpark. "It was great to be able to talk to my father, mother and my friends and family who have supported me the entire time. It was great to share the news. I don't have words to describe how I'm feeling. It's been incredible."
Acuna, at 20, becomes the majors' youngest player, unseating teammate and best friend Ozzie Albies, who is 21, for that distinction. By waiting until now to call up Acuna, the Braves pushed back his timetable for becoming a free agent until 2024.
Bailey hasn't faced Atlanta since the 2014 season, mostly because of multiple injuries. Bailey is 2-2 against the Braves over six career starts, with a 4.54 ERA.
His most recent start against them was April 25, 2014, a 5-4 loss in which he gave up five runs over six innings.
Bailey's last two starts came against the St. Louis Cardinals, a loss and a no-decision in which he gave up a combined six runs on 11 hits over 12 2/3 innings. About the only Braves batter with a history against him is Freddie Freeman, who is 4-for-14 with an RBI.
Bailey will oppose Braves left-hander Sean Newcomb (1-1, 3.74 ERA), who will be making his fourth start of the season. Newcomb didn't figure in the decision his last time out, a 5-3 Braves loss to the New York Mets on Friday in which he gave up two earned runs and six hits over six innings.
Newcomb faced the Reds on Aug. 20 of last season, pitching five shutout innings during an 8-1 Braves win. He allowed five hits and walked five yet didn't surrender a run. Scott Schebler and Billy Hamilton were 1-for-2 against him, while Scooter Gennett was 0-for-3 and Joey Votto was 0-for-1.
On Tuesday, the Reds' bullpen blew a four-run lead in the ninth inning, although Cincinnati came back to win 9-7 in 12 innings.
"I just kind of react to the situation," Reds interim manager Jim Riggleman said. "I don't have any particular thoughts to it. Tonight (Wednesday) I felt like I had four guys I was going to use."