Ronald Acuña Jr. avoids serious knee injury, expected to be ready for Opening Day

There was a collective sigh of relief from the Atlanta Braves, their fans and superstar Ronald Acuña Jr., after Dr. Neal ElAttrache confirmed a team doctor’s diagnosis of meniscus irritation in Acuña’s right knee, rather than anything more serious that might’ve required surgery for the National League MVP.

The Braves said Tuesday that Acuña will gradually increase baseball activities and that he’s expected to be ready for Opening Day. The Braves open the season March 28 at Philadelphia against their NL East rival Phillies, who beat the Braves in a four-game NL Division Series in October for the second consecutive year.

After feeling soreness in his surgically repaired right knee Friday, possibly stemming from an extended rundown Acuña was involved in during a Thursday spring training game, the right fielder was scratched from the lineup Friday and underwent an MRI that showed irritation of the meniscus.

To make sure, and for peace of mind for all parties involved, the Braves decided to have their dynamic leadoff hitter and 2023 MLB stolen-base leader travel to Los Angeles to be examined by ElAttrache, the surgeon who repaired a torn ACL in Acuña’s knee in July 2021.

That was a season-ending injury and surgery that spoiled what had been an MVP-caliber start to the 2021 season for Acuña. When soreness and inflammation lingered during his first season back from surgery in 2022, necessitating occasional days off and the draining of fluid from the knee, there were questions regarding how long it might take before Acuña was back at full pre-injury capacity, or if the issue might continue to affect him going forward.

But in 2023, Acuña wasn’t as good as he’d been prior to surgery, he was better. Far better. In fact, he was historically good. The Braves led the majors in almost every major offensive category in 2023, and Acuña was their star of stars.

He became the fifth member of the 40-40 club (40 home runs and 40 stolen bases) and much more, becoming the first player to have 40-50, 40-60 and, finally, 40-70 seasons. Acuña finished with 41 homers and a majors-leading 73 stolen bases while batting .337 with an MLB-best .416 on-base percentage and NL-leading 1.012 OPS.

There was understandable concern when Acuña was flown across the country during the weekend to get a second opinion on his knee. Manager Brian Snitker said Saturday that he was trying to remain optimistic, but that until Acuña was examined by ElAttrache the Braves wouldn’t know for sure.

If ElAttrache found something worse than the original diagnosis, such as a meniscus tear that might require arthroscopic surgery, there was a likelihood that Acuña would miss the early part of the season. And if that put him behind, there was no telling how long it might take for him to get back up to full speed after returning from a stint on the injured list.

The Braves might’ve needed to add a proven outfielder if Acuña was to require an IL stint to begin the season.

But that didn’t happen, and the Braves and their fans, along with other fans of the wildly popular Acuña, felt a lot better Tuesday morning. Meniscus irritation can heal without any form of surgery.

There have been plenty of positive developments for the Braves in the opening weeks of spring training — the good health and strong first couple of starts from veteran newcomer Chris Sale; the unveiling of a potent new curveball by MLB strikeout leader Spencer Strider; the impressive comeback bid by reliever Ken Giles; the improvement of outfielder Forrest Wall and impressive first outings for hard-throwing top pitching prospects AJ Smith-Shawver and Hurston Waldrep.

But nothing was any more important for the Braves so far this spring than the medical update on Acuña.

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(Photo: Michael Owens / MLB Photos via Getty Images)

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