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Wednesday June 19th, 2019 5:05AM

After big rookie season, Acuna eager for 1st opening day

By The Associated Press
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KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) — When Ronald Acuna Jr. returned to the Atlanta clubhouse, Braves star Freddie Freeman playfully told the NL Rookie of the Year there still was work to do.

"You should have kept going," Freeman kidded, "and gone for the cycle."

Acuna went 3 for 3 with a long home run and double off St. Louis opening day starter Miles Mikolas in Atlanta's 5-0 exhibition win Tuesday. Good enough that former Braves great Dale Murphy sheepishly asked Acuna for his autograph, demonstrating the stature the 21-year-old outfielder has achieved after less than a full season in the big leagues.

"I've felt good from the day we started camp, but as the games progressed I've felt even better," Acuna said through a translator. "I think with these last at-bats, just a little extra patience has gone into it. I've had good at-bats even if the results weren't what we would have wanted, but things are progressing quickly and we kind of see the results now."

Acuna hit .293 with 26 home runs in 111 games last year, helping the Braves win the NL East after four straight losing seasons. His three homers are among nine hits in 25 at-bats this spring.

The Braves open the season March 28 at Philadelphia. Last year, Acuna was not brought up to the majors until April 25.

"I've been anxious for the season to start since we got here to camp. I've felt ready, I've been wanting this to happen," he said. "When the season starts is out of my control. All I can control is how I go about my business."

AROUND THE GRAPEFRUIT AND CACTUS LEAGUES:

ASTROS SUSPENSION

Injured Houston pitcher Francis Martes has been suspended for 80 games following a positive test for the banned performance-enhancing drug Clomiphene. The 23-year-old righty made his major league debut in 2017 and went 5-2 with a 5.80 ERA in four starts and 28 relief appearances for the Astros, striking out 69 and walking 31 in 54 1/3 innings. He had Tommy John surgery last August and was expected to miss most or all of this season.

NATIONALS 5, ASTROS 3

Carter Kieboom homered twice against Houston's Justin Verlander. Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg allowed two runs and five hits, struck out six and walked four in 4 2/3 innings.

Verlander was charged with four runs and six hits in five innings.

YANKEES 8, ORIOLES 7

Aaron Judge, Brett Gardner and Kyle Higashioka homered for New York, and Miguel Andujar had three hits. Aroldis Chapman struck out one and walked one during a scoreless fifth inning.

GIANTS 4, BREWERS 2, 5 INNINGS

San Francisco ace Madison Bumgarner pitched five innings of two-run ball. He struck out four and walked none.

Brandon Belt homered for the Giants, and Gerardo Parra had two hits.

Yasmani Grandal had two hits for Milwaukee. Zach Davies allowed four runs and six hits in 3 2/3 innings.

REDS (SS) 12, CUBS 3

Cincinnati right-hander Tyler Mahle struck out five while pitching three scoreless innings. Kyle Farmer, Connor Joe and Courtney Hawkins homered for the Reds.

Cubs right-hander Tyler Chatwood walked three in 1 1/3 innings. He was charged with two earned runs and two hits.

BRAVES 5, CARDINALS 0

Rookie Bryse Wilson, bidding for a spot in the Braves' rotation, gave up one hit and struck out five in four innings. Mikolas was knocked around for five runs and eight hits in five innings.

MARLINS 8, METS 1

Miami starter Trevor Richards pitched five shutout innings and struck out six.

NL Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom allowed two runs — on a homer by Brian Anderson — in five innings. He struck out six in his fourth spring start.

Tim Tebow was reassigned to minor league camp by the Mets after hitting .267 with one RBI in eight spring training games. The 31-year-old outfielder and former Heisman Trophy winner and NFL quarterback is expected to start the season at Triple-A Syracuse.

TIGERS 4, RED SOX 3

Jody Mercer hit a two-run homer off Boston's David Price. Detroit starter Daniel Norris threw three scoreless innings. Closer Shane Greene pitched a perfect fourth inning.

Blake Swihart had an RBI double in Boston's three-run ninth.

TWINS 10, PIRATES 4

Tyler Austin homered and singled and Jorge Polanco had an RBI double for Minnesota.

Jameson Taillon, set to pitch on opening day for Pittsburgh, made his first spring training start and allowed three runs and five hits in four innings.

RAYS 2, BLUE JAYS 1

Toronto starter Aaron Sanchez gave up one hit in four shutout innings. Teoscar Hernandez singled, scored and is batting .520 for the Blue Jays.

Joey Wendle doubled in a run and scored for Tampa Bay. Kevin Kiermaier singled in the other Rays run.

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