Jarred Kelenic thriving as Braves' replacement for Ronald Acuña Jr. as leadoff batter


NEW YORK (AP) — Jarred Kelenic has taken to hitting at the top of the Atlanta Braves' batting order.

Recently moved to leadoff as the replacement for injured star Ronald Acuña Jr., Kelenic homered and drove in two runs in Sunday's 3-1 win over the New York Yankees.

Kelenic is hitting .324 with three homers and six RBIs in eight games since moving to the leadoff spot.

“Guys see that as an opportunity and some guys respond to the opportunities they get,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said.

Kelenic is hitting .270 with seven homers and 21 RBIs overall this year. He started 22 games in the No. 9 hole, 15 hitting eighth and nine batting seventh.

“I just try to individualize each and every at-bat and let the let the game kind of tell me what I’m trying to do,” Kelenic said.

In his first season with the Braves at age 24, the outfielder was the sixth overall pick by the Mets in the 2018 amateur draft. He was dealt that December to Seattle as part of the package that brought closer Edwin Díaz and second baseman Robinson Canó to New York.

Kelenic hit. 141 as a rookie with the Mariners in 2021 and .141 the following year, then batted .253 last season with 11 homers and 49 RBIs. He became so frustrated during a midseason slump that he kicked a water cooler and broke a bone in his left foot, causing him to be sidelined between July 19 and Sept. 11. He was traded to the Braves in December after hitting .204 with 32 homers and 109 RBIs in 252 games for Seattle.

He has seen most of his time against right-handed pitchers, batting .275 against them in 160 at-bats vs. .250 against lefties in 36 at-bats. He put the Braves ahead with a third-inning homer against Nestor Cortes and added a sacrifice fly in a two-run fifth.

That was enough support for Max Fried, who allowed one run over six innings and improved to 4-1 in his last six starts.

“Playing behind him makes it pretty easy because you don’t have to do much,” Kelenic said. “Sometimes when I’m sitting out there, I’m thinking if I were to face him what I would do. He'd come at you from so many sides of the plate — his balls, they move so much.”

Kelenic settled in as the Braves' platoon left fielder, but shifted to center after Michael Harris II strained his left hamstring on June 13. His shift in the batting order and defensive alignment coincided with a turnaround by the Braves, who have won eight of 10 following a five-game losing streak.

Atlanta took two of three from the Yankees after winning two of three from Tampa Bay and sweeping Detroit.

“It’s a big series,” Snitker said. “We’re playing more to our capabilities. Quite honestly, I still don’t think we’re hitting on all cylinders.”