By Sam Bush
Welcome to the major leagues, Spencer Howard!
Ronald Acuna Jr. homered twice and Freddie Freeman once to spoil Howard’s MLB debut and lead the Atlanta Braves to a doubleheader sweep of the Phillies with an 8-0 win.
Acuna also homered in Atlanta’s 5-2 victory in the first game. He had four hits in the second game and added his fourth career multi-homer game.
“I don’t think Ronald needed anybody else on his team today,” Freeman said. “He kind of took care of everything. Pretty amazing to watch. He is a talent that doesn’t come around very often in this game. It seems like he does more special things every single year. ”
The Phillies had waited since the restart to send Howard (0-1) to the mound and show why MLB.com had him ranked as the 36th top prospect in the minor leagues.
Phillies slugger Bryce Harper proclaimed in July that if Howard wasn’t in the starting rotation by the end of the first week of the season, “there’s a problem. That’s all I’ll say.” There was a hiccup — Howard’s bid to crack the rotation was derailed by service issues. The Phillies kept him on their taxi squad in Allentown, Pennsylvania, for enough days to delay his potential free agency until after the 2026 season.
His first inning was fine, striking out Marcell Ozuna swinging on a nasty 85 mph slider that had a gaggle of Phillies fans outside the ballpark blowing air horns and banging cowbells in delight. The 24-year-old Howard, a second-round pick in the 2017 draft, flashed more poise and promise in a neat 13-pitch second inning.
Freeman, though, hit a two-run homer in the third and Acuna had a solo shot to the opposite field in right for a 3-0 lead. Howard struck out Ozuna in the fifth, and the designated hitter snapped his bat after he slammed it in frustration.
Howard allowed four runs and seven hits in 4 2/3 innings.
“I wouldn’t say I felt sharp, just a little out of sync with my mechanics,” he said.
Atlanta’s Max Fried (3-0) was fantastic in his first three starts of the season (2.04 ERA with 15 strikeouts) and hummed along against the Phillies until he loaded the bases with two outs in the fifth.
Phillies fans nearly 460 feet away chanted “Let’s go, Harper!” but Fried retired him on a fly ball in a lefty-vs.-lefty matchup to escape the jam and send the Braves on their way to the victory in the seven-inning game. He struck out six in five innings.
Acuna hit a two-run shot off Trevor Kelley for a 6-0 lead in the sixth. Acuna is the first Brave with three homers in a doubleheader since David Justice in 1990.
“He’s hitting those balls like a left-handed pull hitter, and they just keep carrying. Good for his confidence. It’s been in the works for him for a while now,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said.