Braves Dispatch: Marcell Ozuna and a historic turnaround

Atlanta Braves designated hitter Marcell Ozuna celebrates after hitting a RBI single during the first inning against the Miami Marlins at Truist Park, April 24, 2024, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz / AJC)

Credit: Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

Atlanta Braves designated hitter Marcell Ozuna celebrates after hitting a RBI single during the first inning against the Miami Marlins at Truist Park, April 24, 2024, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz / AJC)

LOS ANGELES – Hey there,

When he woke up in Miami on May 2, 2023, Marcell Ozuna was batting .085. He was 59 at-bats into his season.

To that point, he was the worst hitter in baseball.

So, as he found himself in a large hole, he employed a certain mindset going forward.

“OK, so take it one (at-bat) at a time,” Ozuna said then. “The season starts right now. Be ready to swing. If you fail, you fail. Be a grown man and stand up and do your best and move forward.”

And since May 2 of last season, Ozuna has been one of baseball’s best hitters. This has been an unbelievable turnaround.

“Oh my gosh, I just got goosebumps thinking about it,” hitting coach Kevin Seitzer told me. “That’s why we do what we do, just to be able to help guys get out of bad spots. It’s like, even when we’re winning games and doing really good, there’s still two or three guys that keep you awake at night, that you want to try and get them going. It’s like, ‘Yeah, okay, good (that) we won, I’m glad we won, that’s the most important part.’ But getting the guys going that are scuffling – with Ozuna last year, having him turn it around, and then I’m so happy this year (that) he picked up where he left off last year.”

Consider this context:

Since 1961, only nine players have hit .085 over their first 18 games of a season when they’ve taken at least 59 at-bats. Ozuna was one of them. (Two of them are from this year: Houston’s Jose Abreu and St. Louis’ Victor Scott II.)

But none of them came close to what Ozuna accomplished: In the same season as his brutal start, he hit 40 home runs and drove in 100 runs. He hit .274 with a .905 OPS.

By those measures, his upswing was historic. And it has not stopped.

And now, this:

Since May 2 of last season, Ozuna ranks third in baseball with 38 home runs – behind only teammate Matt Olson (46) and Philadelphia’s Kyle Schwarber (40). His 98 RBIs in that span are second only to Olson’s 114.

Ozuna enters the series against the Dodgers with a majors-best 32 RBIs. His nine home runs are one off the MLB lead.

Ozuna’s story can be an example to other major leaguers. The lesson: One stretch doesn’t define a career. Anyone can return to greatness.

“And he had a lot of noise outside the workplace, too, that he had to deal with,” Braves manager Brian Snitker recently said. “I admire him so much for how he handled this whole thing, how he came to work every day with a smile on his face and worked hard every day. When the game was over, he was the first one out of the dugout in the (handshake) line. I think his teammates respect that and admire him for what he did go through and how he handled it.”

Multiple times, Ozuna has referenced how staying out of trouble has helped him return to form.

In 2021, Ozuna was arrested on charges of aggravated assault by strangulation and battery – felony charges that were eventually dropped.

In 2022, he was arrested for DUI and eventually pleaded no contest. He paid a $1,000 fine. The DUI charge was dropped.

Over this last year, Ozuna has been able to solely focus on baseball.

“It’s been nice,” he told me. “When you stay out of trouble, you’re coming ready to play the game, and then go home and chill.”

Ozuna now has a “clear mind,” he said. He learned from his mistakes. He’s happy to now only be concerned with baseball.

“If you’re going healthy and then you’re going ready for the next day, you’re going to be good,” he said. “You’re going to feel energy, you’re going to feel strong, you’re going to feel everything. That’s what I’m doing right now, I’m just going to the field and doing my best.”

As Snitker said earlier in this story, Ozuna’s teammates and coaches respected how he handled his struggles. Not only did he work hard, but he continued to be a good teammate.

“It’s a huge testimony as to who he is as a person,” Seitzer said. “The dude just wants to win, that’s the bottom line. They all want to do good, but they all, most importantly, want to win ballgames. And they know when we win (and) they’re struggling, they’re happy we won but they need to fix what’s going on with themselves so they can contribute. He’s that guy. I mean, he’s just a great teammate, a great worker, the whole thing.”

Added Ozuna: “Every time, I never give up. I just come in every day working and giving my best. I never gave up.”

Ozuna said the people around him, namely his coaches, told him not to worry. They urged him to be ready and do his best. “All of my guys know who I am, and they know what I can do in baseball,” he said. And over the last year, he’s proven this: He’s not done yet. He might still be in his prime.

At 33 years old, Ozuna has been Atlanta’s best hitter this season. Or, as Seitzer put it: “Ozuna, he’s been the straw that’s stirring the drink so far.”

And here’s what might be most impressive about Ozuna during his difficult stretch of baseball last April:

“I never lose my confidence,” he said. “I always have my confidence. I never give up. If I’m (in a slump), I know it’s not gonna be too long. I’m gonna be able to have one of those good stretches that I’m having right now. I knew it was coming because I know what I can do in baseball.”

That’s probably easier said than done. Ozuna is a two-time All-Star who has won two Silver Slugger Awards. But last April, he was the worst hitter in baseball among those receiving regular at-bats.

And yet, he still worked. He still cared – perhaps too much, as he might’ve put more pressure on himself than necessary. He still smiled.

But if you ask anyone about Ozuna, this is who he is: He’s a friendly teammate who brings laughs and hitting advice to teammates.

“I just give a smile to everyone,” Ozuna said. “I’m trying to be helpful and give it my best. That’s what I like to do – give it my best and be humble every time.”

Something else to wonder about: How long can Ozuna play at this level? Could he do this for years to come?

“I wanna play a couple more years, but I want to finish here,” Ozuna said. “It’s good and I don’t want to keep moving and (have) to (be) making new friends and new teammates. We’ll see what happens. It’s not my decision. My decision is already set up. If God gives me the opportunity to finish here, I’ll finish here. If God gives me the opportunity to be somewhere else, I’m gonna be somewhere else. Wherever God puts me in my destiny, I’m gonna take it.”

Ozuna has a $16 million club option for next season. If he hits like he has over the past year, that might be a bargain. Ozuna said his representation and the Braves haven’t yet discussed an extension.

Last summer, Ozuna talked to a struggling Michael Harris II about the mindset he used himself: The season starts now, he told Harris. Take it one at-bat at a time.

Harris got hot and played well for the next few months.

There are many hitters who can learn from Ozuna’s turnaround.

“I always say, ‘Keep your head up and keep moving forward. One of those days you’re going to wake up and the next day, you’re going to the stadium and you’re gonna maybe get three hits, or maybe get four hits,’” Ozuna said.

Atlanta Braves third base Austin Riley (27) hits a single during the sixth inning at Truist Park in Atlanta on April 23, 2024. Atlanta Braves won 5-0 over Miami Marlins. (Hyosub Shin / AJC)


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Extra Innings

* In my reporting for this Ozuna story, Seitzer said something really cool about the Braves’ hitters. They know there’ll be rough times, Seitzer said, but they understand they’ll get rolling eventually.

“It’s one of the things that I love about our guys, is they put confidence in their baseball cards and not necessarily short-term struggles,” Seitzer said. “And you hope it’s very short-term. We’ve hit a ton of balls that could be hits, could be homers, and they’re not. And they all know it’s part of the game. Our job as hitting coaches is just trying to keep them as much in a positive mindset as what they can (be), because when the brain gets out of whack, where you start pressing, you get anxious, you start stressing a little bit, then you don’t see the ball good, your timing’s off, your swing doesn’t repeat the way you want. These guys are good about keeping it in perspective.”

I especially liked the part about putting confidence in their baseball cards – their track records – and not recent history.

* Recently, Austin Riley and Kevin Seitzer talked about how the Braves have faced a lot of good pitching early in the season, especially recently with Seattle and Cleveland.

Riley said it went like this:

“Yeah, early on, facing guys like this, we may go through a little tough stretch. But I think it prepares you through a full season of seeing really good pitching, and one you get in the groove of things, it’s like, ‘All right, we’re ready to go.’”

* The Braves and Dodgers are widely viewed as the National League’s two best teams. It wouldn’t be surprising to see them finish with the top two records in baseball.

A quick comparison here, before they meet:

The Dodgers and Braves lead MLB in team batting average and OPS. The Dodgers have a higher team batting average (.271 to .266) and a higher team OPS (.794 to .766).

The Braves are ninth in baseball with a 3.52 team ERA, and the Dodgers are 10th, at 3.53.

The Dodgers have hit more homers (38) than the Braves (29). Los Angeles has played four more games, though. Both clubs have scored around 5.4 runs per game.