Ronald Acuna Jr. four-hit game, Braves even series with Mets

NEW YORK — This year’s Braves outfield looks much different than 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 appears the Atlanta outfielders might once again be a group of difference makers.

With the help of all three outfielders, Atlanta built a comfortable early lead and bounced back 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 made a great catch before matching 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 3 1/2 games of the lead in the National League East. They will play a doubleheader on Saturday and then conclude a five-game series against the first-place Mets on Sunday afternoon.

Acuña said the raucous crowd created a postseason feeling. Both he and Rosario responded to jeering fans in the outfield by turning and playfully pointing to their respective ring fingers. Harris enjoyed the interactions and showed no signs of being fazed while playing in New York for the first time.

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

If not for some big defensive contributions from the outfielders, Ian Anderson’s latest ugly start might have been a disaster. Anderson was spotted an 8-0 lead by the second and ended up allowing four runs on seven hits and four walks over 4 2/3 innings. The right-hander can only hope to turn things around, much like Acuña and Rosario have.

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

Acuña’s most impressive contribution came when he leapt, stretched his glove above the right-field wall and prevented what might have been Pete Alonso’s 30th home run. The first-inning grab showed he is growing more confident with his right knee, which was surgically repaired after he tore his right ACL while attempting to make a play near LoanDepot Park’s right-field wall on July 10, 2021.

“That’s good for him to experience that, and I can see his motor is also starting to run offensively,” Snitker said.

Acuña was productive over the first 30 games after being activated from the injured list near the end of April, and then produced a .580 OPS over the 38 games immediately preceding this series. Those struggles weren’t as significant as those Rosario experienced — he went 3-for-44 to begin this season and then underwent laser surgery to repair a swollen retina and blurred vision in his right eye.

Rosario was seeing the ball just fine on Friday, drilling a three-run homer in the four-run first and then adding an RBI double in the second. The 2021 NLCS MVP has hit .344 with a double, a triple and a homer over his past nine games. The Braves acquired Robbie Grossman at the Trade Deadline, but Rosario will remain the primary left fielder if he extends this production.

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

Harris made a 92.2 mph throw that denied Luis Guillorme’s bid to score from second on Brandon Nimmo’s two-out single in the second. The center fielder also homered to begin the top 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 through their first 60 career. games.

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

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