Braves phenom Acuña burns Phillies, Wheeler in more ways than one


The Phillies were burned by one of the most talented young players in baseball Friday night.

Atlanta Braves outfielder/leadoff man Ronald Acuña Jr. stroked four hits, including a booming two-run homer against starter Zack Wheeler, and made the defensive play of the game to lead his club to an 8-1 win in Atlanta.

The loss dropped the Phillies to 5-2 on the young season and left manager Joe Girardi with a ringing sensation in his ears.

"He's a great player and when he centers a ball, it's loud. I mean, it's really loud," Girardi said of the 23-year-old Acuña. "We weren't able to keep him from centering balls tonight and that was a big difference in the game. We did a really good job with him at our place last week, but we were not able to do that tonight."

On top of belting his third home run in seven games, Acuña had two doubles and a single and is hitting .393 with a 1.290 OPS.

In addition to raising his batting average with his big night, Acuña appeared to also raise the ire of Wheeler, the Phillies' quiet, no-nonsense right-hander.

Wheeler dominated the Braves six days earlier in Philadelphia, but in this game lacked command, ran a high pitch count and didn't make it through the fifth inning. One of the pitches that Wheeler was not happy with was a 1-1 slider to Acuña with a man on base in the fifth inning. Acuña jumped all over the pitch and crushed it 456 feet to center for a two-run homer.

"My slider wasn't fooling anybody today," Wheeler said. "I was trying to throw it on the corner and it spun right down the middle and he did what he did."

Acuña impressed himself with the bomb. He stood at home plate for several seconds and admired the shot before breaking into his home run trot.

Wheeler at first turned and watched the ball fly toward center field. When he turned back around to ask the umpire for a new ball, Acuña had barely begun to walk out of the batter's box. Wheeler appeared to doubletake when he saw that Acuña was still there and he shot the Braves slugger a disapproving look.

After the game, Wheeler was asked if it bothered him that Acuña spent so much time admiring the home run.

The pitcher shrugged, muttered the word "whatever," shrugged again and said "whatever," again. Given the chance to provide a clear answer, he declined and cleared the inquiring reporter to draw his own conclusion.

It's likely that an assortment of things made Wheeler unhappy, starting with the loss, the way he pitched and an inconsistent strike zone from umpire Carlos Torres. Acuña's antics likely didn't brighten Wheeler's mood, either.

Acuña solidified himself as one of the game's top young stars with 41 homers, 101 RBIs and 37 stolen bases as a 21-year-old in 2019. He finished fifth in the NL MVP voting that season. He was the NL Rookie of the Year in 2018.

After playing mostly left field and center field his first three seasons in the majors, Acuña has moved full time to right field this season to accommodate the arrival of Cristian Pache, another of Atlanta's tremendous young talents.

Playing right field Friday night, Acuña made a game-changing defensive play when he robbed Alec Bohm of what would have been an extra-base hit to end the top of the sixth inning. The Phillies had runners on the corners. Acuña's catch at the wall saved two runs.

"It would have been 3-3 if that ball gets over his head," Girardi said.

The Braves salted the game away in the bottom of the sixth when pinch-hitter Ehire Adrianza clubbed a three-run homer off Brandon Kintzler after a pair of errors by third baseman Alec Bohm.

Freddie Freeman padded the Braves' lead with a two-run homer in the eighth.

The Phillies will send Zach Eflin to the mound in the second game of the series Saturday night. Something to consider: In the last four games, the Phillies have gotten 3⅓, 5, 4 and 4⅔ innings, respectively, from their starting pitchers. They need more than that or they'll wear out the new-and-improved bullpen. Eflin will try to reverse the trend — and keep Acuña from making loud noises with his bat.

Subscribe to the Phillies Talk podcastApple Podcasts | Google Play | Spotify | Stitcher | Art19 | Watch on YouTube

Contact Us