NL MVP Ronald Acuña Jr. returns to Braves spring lineup after knee injury scare


NORTH PORT, Fla. (AP) — National League MVP Ronald Acuña Jr. returned to the Atlanta Braves' spring training lineup on Thursday, two weeks before opening day.

Acuña batted leadoff and filled the designated hitter spot against the Tampa Bay Rays. He went hitless in three at-bats, with two strikeouts, before he was lifted for a pinch hitter.

Acuña played for the first time since feeling soreness in his surgically repaired right knee after a rundown during a Feb. 29 game against Minnesota. Taking no chances, the Braves sent him to Los Angeles to be examined by Los Angeles Dodgers head team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache, who had operated after Acuña's season-ending knee injury in 2021.

ElAttrache found only irritation in the meniscus of the knee, clearing the way for Acuña to gradually increase his baseball activities in preparation for the March 28 opener to the regular season at Philadelphia.

Acuña appearance Thursday was a major step forward in making sure he doesn't miss significant time in the games that count. The next step will be getting some playing time at his regular spot in right field.

If the Braves decide to be extra cautious with Acuña, they added another outfield option Thursday with the signing of slugger Adam Duvall.

Acuña is coming off a historic season in which he had 41 homers and 73 stolen bases, the first 40-70 player in major leaguel history. He was a unanimous choice for his first MVP award as the Braves won their sixth straight NL East title.