ATLANTA — With the Braves in the midst of trying to get past the high-powered Los Angeles Dodgers and into the World Series for the first time since 1999, it might be easy, from the outside, to forget that they are incomplete.
They’ve been that way since July 10, when star outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. went down for the season with a torn ACL.
While Acuna can’t help his teammates on the field, he’s been present in the clubhouse, and was on the field before Sunday’s Game 2 of the National League Championship Series, chatting up teammates and fans, and providing a rare bit of insight into his ongoing rehab.
“I feel really good, and I’m really happy to be here with my team now that they’ve made it to this point,” Acuna said, through Braves interpreter Franco Garcia. “This is what it’s all about.”
Acuna’s season ended in a game at Miami in July, when he landed awkwardly in pursuit of fly ball off the bat of the Marlins’ Jazz Chisholm Jr. It was an emotional scene as Acuna was helped off the field, but the next day he told reporters that his goal was “to come back stronger than ever.”
That’s a higher bar for Acuna than most players. At the time of his injury, Acuna was an MVP candidate with a .283 average, 24 homers, 52 RBIs and 17 stolen bases. Despite the emotion surrounding his injury, he said he entered the recovery process ready to lean into the work. He underwent surgery to repair the ACL on July 21.
“I don’t think I really ever lost sight of [the recovery],” Acuna said. “My mind never wandered to that place where it was negative. Always positive, always strong. After it happened, I immediately looked at our medical staff and training staff and said, ‘Let’s get straight to work.'”
Acuna said that he felt “about 70%” physically, though he emphasized that was just his opinion and that he will continue to heed the directions of the Braves’ medical and training staffs. While original estimates on Acuna’s recovery were in the range of nine to 10 months after the injury, he says he does not have a target date in mind.
“The knee, it’s a big focal point as far as the structure and stability,” Acuna said. “I’m going to take my time with it, that’s for sure. But I know that once I feel like I’m ready to go, I’ll express that.
“As far as the timetable is concerned, if the trainers say ‘May’ then May, if the trainers say ‘April’ then April. Whatever the doctors and team and medical staff say.”
Acuna added that the plan is for him to begin jogging and other light activity in November or December, with a possible move into baseball-related activity in January or February.
In the meantime, he is occupying himself by playing cheerleader as his teammates try to win the National League pennant, a goal which they fell one win short of achieving a season ago. It’s a bittersweet experience.
“It’s one of the hardest moments of my career, to be honest, to be here at the stadium and not be able to be out on the field with my teammates and play with them,” Acuna said. “Nothing you can do about that. For me, it’s just about being here, continue to give them support as if were playing and continue to give 200% [in my rehab].”