It appears the lumbar strain that sent Braves center fielder Ender Inciarte to the injured list May 15 will keep him out for “a while longer,” Tim Tucker of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes. Braves manager Brian Snitker said Saturday that Inciarte’s back is “still barking a little bit and giving him some problems,” adding he’s not ready to resume baseball activities.
A Brave since 2016, Inciarte was a valuable member of the club in his first three Atlanta seasons, combining for 8.9 fWAR in 1,956 plate appearances. Inciarte mixed roughly league-average offense with splendid defense and high-end base running in that span to make him one of the majors’ most underrated regulars. The Braves liked what they saw from the get-go, as they inked Inciarte to an extension worth a guaranteed $30.525MM in December 2016 – one year after robbing him from the Diamondbacks.
Although the 28-year-old Inciarte has generally been a solid cog for the Braves, 2019 has been a tough go so far. Before he went on the IL, Inciarte hit a career-worst .218/.300/.323 (64 wRC+) in 140 trips to the plate. A .260 batting average on balls in play, down from a .315 lifetime mean, has contributed to that unattractive line. At the same time, though, Inciarte has swung and missed more than ever en route to the lowest contact rate of his career. He’s also running a paltry .276 expected weighted on-base average that ranks toward the bottom of the majors and almost matches an even weaker .273 wOBA.
Inciarte’s injury has continued to help usher in a youth movement for Atlanta, a team that’s chock-full of young contributors. His IL placement led the club to shift budding superstar left fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. to center and promote touted prospect Austin Riley, who has dazzled in the majors since his May 15 debut. Riley’s presence has helped lift the Braves to an 8-3 record without Inciarte, giving the reigning NL East champions a 29-24 overall mark. Should that keep up, Inciarte may not be in for daily playing time when he’s able to return. The Braves have Josh Donaldson locked into Riley’s usual position (third base), after all, while durable right fielder Nick Markakis seldom sits and has gotten on base a hefty 38 percent of the time this year.