With all of his inherent ability, Ronald Acuna, Jr., seems poised on the precipice of superstardom with the Atlanta Braves.
It’s clear when you watch him play. He has immense power, great speed and enough defensive ability that some believe he will one of the best outfielders in the Major Leagues before too long.
But the kid has a big problem and his team has had a tough time convincing him to address it. There are times when he just refuses to hustle, when he jogs around the bases like a prima donna instead of busting down the line.
On Thursday night in Atlanta, Acuna, 21, put on another sad show and it might have been one of the reasons the Braves lost 7-6 to the St. Louis Cardinals in Game of the best-of-five NLDS.
Leading off in the seventh inning, the Braves leading 3-1, Acuna held his bat at the plate and watched a blast soar towards the right-field wall. While doing so, his slowed his gait down to first base, settling for a single when it was clear he easily could have made it to second.
“He should have been on second,” manager Brian Snitker said. “And we’re kind of shorthanded to do anything about it right there. You hate to see that happen.”
In fact, Acuna had barely reached first base by the time the Cardinals right fielder fetched the ball off the rebound.
“Yeah, it’s frustrating,” said Braves star first baseman Freddie Freeman after the game. “But I think you have that conversation once. It’s kind of beating a dead horse after that if you keep having the same conversation over and over again. You have to know that was a mistake.”
Here’s why the Braves are pissed about it: A similar incident happened in August and the Braves immediately benched him after the half-inning. You would think having endured that embarrassment, he would have learned a valuable lesson about comportment.
“Things happen. Stuff like this doesn’t happen to the one who is sitting on the bench,” Acuna told ESPN’s Enrique Rojas. “It could have been a double, but things happen. I didn’t speak with the manager about it. I just went out to enjoy the game.
“I always try to give my best, but these are things that sometimes get away from me. They are not things I want to do. As players, we always try to give our best effort, but we make mistakes, we are human.”
After the single, Ozzie Albies grounded out, moving Acuna to second when he should have been on third. The inning then ended when Josh Donaldson lined into a double-play.
“He probably scores in that inning if he’s on second base,” said Albies. “It’s a big deal. He knows he needs to do better there.”
There are times when Acuna makes the Braves want to smash their heads into a wall. He frustrates them constantly by refusing to take full advantage of his skill. Things should have been different on Thursday. He had three hits, including a big two-run homer in the ninth that cut a four-run Cardinals lead in half.
Even then there was a problem. Cardinals pitcher Carlos Martinez was upset with the way Acuna trotted around the bases, saying he felt disrespected.
Albies said after the game a few of the Braves players confronted Acuna about his lack of hustle. And Acuna appeared to have taken it all in.
“I would’ve loved to have a double, if I could take it back,” said Acuna.
The Braves are hoping that he means it this time.
“I think he knows,” said Dansby Swanson. “We’re all grown men, professionals here. He understands. All you can hope for is it just doesn’t happen again.”