Braves’ Marcell Ozuna defends latest backswing incident: Dodgers’ Will Smith ‘showed me up’

right arrow

ATLANTA — Within moments of Marcell Ozuna uncorking his vicious swing, no one was looking at where the ball had wound up. Not because the Braves designated hitter had gotten jammed on a Gavin Stone fastball, but because the barrel of his bat had swung around and conked Dodgers catcher Will Smith on the side of the head on his fourth-inning flyout.

The ensuing verbal spat and near-benches-clearing confrontation still had some steam to it a day after the Dodgers knocked off the Braves, 8-6, at Truist Park on Monday night, with the typically mild-mannered Smith expressing irritation at what Ozuna has conceded is a common trend — his hearty cut and extended release with his top hand have resulted in many catchers taking an unexpected shot.

“I was just mad,” Smith said Monday night after confronting Ozuna after the swing, and again shortly before Ozuna’s next at-bat in the sixth inning before home-plate umpire Alan Porter intervened.

“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 around the league. I just felt like there comes a point where I need to say something there. In the moment, it kind of got a little heated. It’s something he’s not doing on purpose. But (if) you do it enough times you’d think he’d fix it.”

Smith, who missed two weeks earlier this season due to a concussion, noted it was a particularly sensitive subject for him considering the recency of his injury. He was back in the Dodgers lineup and behind the plate for Tuesday night’s contest.

“He’s certainly rightfully sensitive to it,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said of Smith.

Ozuna insisted it was an accident, and said Smith isn’t the only catcher who has accidentally caught a barrel, including his now-teammate Sean Murphy, former Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, current Cardinals catcher Willson Contreras and Smith’s teammate, Austin Barnes (Barnes confirmed Tuesday he’d borne the brunt of an Ozuna backswing before). Before Monday’s game was complete, footage resurfaced showing Ozuna had gotten Smith before with a similar swing on a groundout at Dodger Stadium last season.

Ozuna said he apologized in the moment to the Dodgers backstop (though Smith disputed that Monday night). But the 32-year-old slugger’s ire came from Smith’s reaction, saying the catcher “showed me up in front of everybody here.”

“He said, ‘No, you’ve got to fix it,’” Ozuna said. “I said, ‘I’ve got to fix it, why? You want me to change my mechanics? If you throw an inside pitch, you’re trying to steal a strike, what do you want me to do? I’m gonna swing like that.’”

“He doesn’t want to do that,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “That’s the last thing he wants to do is try to hurt somebody.”

Ozuna recommended Smith move back further in the box to protect himself, something he said other catchers have done in the past upon noting how far back he goes with his swing — and something Snitker noted that Sal Fasano, Atlanta’s catching coach, has advised for facing guys like Ozuna with longer swings.

“Rather than get hit, we just move them back,” Snitker said.

Barnes, who like Smith sets up close to the opposing hitter to help frame pitches for strikes, said that some opposing hitters have given him advance warning that their swing can enter a danger zone. An additional consideration, Barnes said, is not just getting caught by a backswing, but on the front end for catcher’s interference.

“It just sucks,” Barnes said. “You know, it’s a bat, and you’re swinging that thing pretty hard. … I don’t think he’s doing it on purpose, but getting hit in the head is never fun, either.”

(Photo: Brett Davis / USA Today)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top