ATLANTA — Moments after Marcell Ozuna uncorked his vicious swing, no one was watching where the ball had curled. Not because the Braves’ designated hitter got stuck on a Gavin Stone fastball, but because the barrel of his bat flipped and knocked Dodgers catcher Will Smith to the side of the head during his fourth inning flyout.
The ensuing verbal spat and near-bench showdown still had some steam a day after the Dodgers toppled the Braves, 8-6, at Truist Park on Monday night, with the generally mild-mannered Smith expressing annoyance at which Ozuna conceded is a common trend – his hearty cut and extended release with his top hand led to many catchers taking an unexpected shot.
“I was just crazy,” Smith said Monday night after facing Ozuna after the swing, and again shortly before Ozuna’s next appearance at bat in the sixth inning before plate umpire Alan Porter stopped. intervene.
“He hit me in the head with his bat pretty hard. It’s not the first time he’s done it to me. He’s done it to other catchers in the league. I just felt there came a time when I had to say something there. At the time, it got a little heated. It’s something he doesn’t do on purpose. But (if) you do it enough times, you’d think he’d fix it.
Smith, who missed two weeks earlier this season with a concussion, noted it was an especially sensitive topic for him given the recency of his injury. He was back in the Dodgers lineup and behind home plate for Tuesday night’s game.
“He’s certainly rightfully sensitive to it,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said of Smith.
Ozuna insisted it was an accident and said Smith wasn’t the only receiver to accidentally catch a barrel, including teammate Sean Murphy, former Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina , current Cardinals receiver Willson Contreras and Smith’s teammate Austin Barnes (Barnes confirmed on Tuesday that he had taken the brunt of an Ozuna backswing before). Before the end of Monday’s game, footage surfaced showing Ozuna previously had Smith with a similar swing during a groundout at Dodger Stadium last season.
Ozuna said he apologized to the Dodgers’ safety net at the time (although Smith took issue Monday night). But the 32-year-old slugger’s anger came over Smith’s reaction, saying the catcher “showed me in front of everyone here.”
“He said, ‘No, you have to fix it,'” Ozuna said. “I said, ‘I have to fix it, why? You want me to change my mechanic? If you’re throwing an inside pitch, you’re trying to steal a strike, what do you want me to do? I’ll swing like this.
“He doesn’t want to do this,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “That’s the last thing he wants to do is try to hurt someone.”
Ozuna recommended Smith back up further into the box to protect himself, something he said other catchers had done in the past when noting how far he was going with his swing – and something Snitker noted that Atlanta catching coach Sal Fasano advised to deal with guys like Ozuna with longer swings.
“Rather than being hit, we just push them away,” Snitker said.
Barnes, who like Smith sets up close to the opposing hitter to help frame pitches for strikes, said some opposing hitters gave him advance warning that their swing could enter a danger zone. An additional consideration, Barnes said, is not just getting caught on a backswing, but on the front end for receiver interference.
“It just sucks,” Barnes said. “You know, it’s a bat, and you swing that thing pretty hard. … I don’t think he’s doing it on purpose, but getting hit in the head is never fun either.
After Tuesday’s game, which the Dodgers won 8-1, Smith told reporters he and Ozuna were “overwhelmed.” When asked if he backed off during the game, Smith replied, “Yeah, I was back.”
(Photo: Brett Davis/USA Today)