April 19, 2024

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The Braves' Ronald Acuña Jr.'s knee will be examined Monday in Los Angeles following an MRI

The Braves' Ronald Acuña Jr.'s knee will be examined Monday in Los Angeles following an MRI

Atlanta Braves star Ronald Acuña Jr. will have his sore right knee examined Monday in Los Angeles by Dr. Neil El Attrache, the doctor who performed reconstructive surgery on the torn anterior cruciate ligament in that knee in July 2021, a team official said Saturday. An MRI on Friday revealed irritation around the meniscus in Acuña's knee.

Acuña was omitted from the Braves' lineup for Friday's spring training game, which the team at the time classified strictly as a precaution and indicated the National League MVP might return to play within two days. But that outlook changed after an MRI was performed later in the day.

While the Braves remain optimistic that Acuña will be ready by Opening Day, much will depend on any further testing and evaluations by El Attrache. If arthroscopic surgery is performed to repair the damaged meniscus, Acuña could miss at least a few weeks, making a return by Opening Day doubtful.

If the irritation can heal on its own, the timeline may be much shorter. The Braves and their fans don't even want to think about the possibility that further testing could reveal additional damage.

“Right now we're trying to be optimistic,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “Maybe (he'll be out) just a few weeks or something, just to calm things down. But honestly, I don't know until we get what the doctor says there.

While it may turn out to be nothing more than a pain due to irritation, the fact that the Braves are flying Acuña across the country to have the knee examined by his surgeon will cause some concern among Braves fans, who remember how persistent pain affected Acuña in 2022 in his first season. After returning from surgery.

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There is arguably no player in MLB more important to his team than Acuña, a dynamic main baseman and right fielder, for the Braves. They won 104 games and their sixth straight NL East title last season before losing to the Philadelphia Phillies in the NL Division Series, and the Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers are the best teams in the major leagues according to most 2024 preseason polls and power rankings.

“I mean, if you look at last year, this is what (Acuña) means to baseball,” Snitker said Saturday. “How fun it is to watch this kid. So hopefully (it's nothing serious). He did everything (in pre-match training) yesterday. But I'm not a doctor. So I'll wait and see what they say.

“I think the good thing is that it's March 2. So, we have some time.”

The Braves led the majors in nearly every major offensive category in 2023, and Acuña was the proverbial straw in stirring the drink. He became the fifth member of the 40-40 Club (minimum 40 home runs and 40 stolen bases), the first in the 40-50, 40-60, and finally the 40-70 Club. He finished with 41 home runs and a league-leading 73 stolen bases while batting .337 with an MLB-best .416 on-base percentage and an NL-leading 1.012 OPS.

Acuña, who turned 26 in December, was a unanimous pick for the NL MVP award, receiving all 30 first-place votes.

He played winter ball for about a month in his native Venezuela and came to camp in good condition and without any obvious ailments or physical limitations. Acuña participated in a rundown between second and third base in Thursday's game, planting and backing down several times before stopping and being flagged.

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Neither he nor the Braves have said if this is where the knee irritation might be, or if it is a result of overall increased activity in the early stages of spring training.

Jason Stark contributed to this report.

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(Photo: Tyler Shank/Clarkson Creative/Getty Images)