Posted on August 8, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine
If the Atlanta Braves are going to win their second straight NL East crown, they may have to do so without rookie Austin Riley. The Braves placed Riley on the 10-day Injured List Thursday with a partially torn LCL in his right knee. However, the club doesn’t yet know how serious the injury is. Riley is scheduled to see renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews next week, indicating that the rookie could be facing a lengthy recovery.
Riley hurt his knee while working out in the weight room on Tuesday. After sitting out Tuesday’s game, the Braves expected him to serve as their DH Wednesday against the Twins. But that plan was scrapped after Riley woke up Wednesday with swelling in his knee.
“I was going through a movement for mobility in my hips and felt some discomfort in my knee,” Riley told reporters Thursday. “Then woke up the next morning and there was some swelling and the discomfort was at a higher rate, and now we’re here and just waiting to see what the doctors say.”
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The 22-year-old Riley made his big league debut in May and immediately made an impact in Atlanta’s lineup. He hit .356 with an OPS of 1.143 during his first 15 games in the majors. Naturally, Riley was unable to keep producing at that same pace. Since the all-star break, he’s hitting just .184 with an OPS of .512, dropping his season average to .242 and an OPS of .798. But with 17 home runs under his belt in less than 250 at-bats, he’s still someone who could play an important role for the Braves down the stretch.
Despite being a natural third baseman, Riley has spent most of his time in the majors playing left field. His presence in Atlanta’s outfield became even more important when Nick Markakis was lost to a broken wrist in late July. With Markakis still sidelined and Ender Inciarte struggling to produce consistently, a healthy Riley would likely be a key piece for the Atlanta outfield late in the year, particularly against left-handed pitchers.
Now that Riley is out indefinitely, the Braves will have to explore other options to fill out their outfield. Adam Duvall, Matt Joyce, and Charlie Culberson are all likely to see time in left field. Until either Riley or Markakis is ready to return from the IL, at least one of those players will be in Atlanta’s lineup every day.
The fact that Riley was slumping makes his injury a little easier for the Braves to absorb. But given how hot he was following his promotion in May, he’s an option Atlanta would love to have right now. They also don’t want to worry about the possibility of one of their most promising young hitters suffering a long-term injury, as Riley figures to be a big part of Atlanta’s plans in 2020 and beyond.
At the moment, the Braves hold a comfortable six-game lead atop the NL East. They don’t appear to be in danger of losing that lead, but there’s still plenty of season left to play. But with Markakis and Riley out and no specific timeline in place for either to return, the Braves are no doubt weary of injuries making it more difficult for them to secure a postseason spot.