Braves’ Marcell Ozuna shares his side of incident with Dodgers’ Will Smith

Marcell Ozuna on Tuesday shared his side of the incident with Dodgers catcher Will Smith during Monday’s game.

The backstory: In the fourth inning, Ozuna – who at times possesses a notoriously long backswing – clipped Smith in the head on a flyout to left field. After the ball landed in the outfielder’s glove, Smith took off his mask, turned toward Ozuna and appeared to have words for him. Ozuna lifted up his hands, almost as if he were trying to apologize.

“Let’s go, (expletive) clean it up,” Smith told Ozuna, according to Ozuna, who recounted the situation with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in the Braves’ clubhouse before Tuesday’s game.

Ozuna, about to walk back to the dugout, said he turned around and responded: “What’d you say?”

“This is the fifth time you’ve hit me,” Smith told him.

“Bro, I don’t want to hit you on purpose,” Ozuna said he told Smith. “I don’t want to hit you on purpose. I didn’t do it on purpose. What are you talking about?”

Ozuna – who seemed to take offense to how Smith appeared to believe he did it on purpose – said he also apologized to Smith. Smith, however, told Dodgers reporters that Ozuna never apologized. (An important note: Last month, Smith suffered a concussion, which understandably added to his frustration.)

“I was just mad,” Smith said after Monday’s game, according to The Athletic. “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 you do it enough times you’d think he’d fix it.”

This is where Ozuna disagrees, as he laid out in the interview with the AJC. He said he has extension on his backswing on inside pitches. Ozuna, who last week reached 10 years of MLB service time, always has swung like this.

Asked if he feels he needs to change his swing mechanics, Ozuna said: “No. I don’t have to change. The only thing (catchers) have to do is back up. I don’t want to hit him. For what? What’s the reason I want to hit him? Why? There’s no reason I’d want to hit him.”

Ozuna also said this: “I’ve hit everyone in the league, every catcher. J.T. Realmuto, Austin Barnes, (Jacob) Stallings, Austin Nola, (Willson) Contreras. I’ve hit everyone. They know that I’m standing (there) on the inside pitch.”

And what do those catchers do?

“They back up. All of them,” Ozuna said. “All of them back up because they know I have a long swing on the inside pitch.”

In Ozuna’s eyes, that’s the solution for catchers.

“When you (set up for) the inside pitch, back up,” Ozuna said. “When you’re throwing away, you can stay normal because I don’t hit the catchers (on pitches away). But on the inside pitch, I have to stay inside and extend back.”

Braves manager Brian Snitker said catching coach Sal Fasano regularly moves back the Braves’ catchers for hitters with long backswings.

“And they don’t want to hit the catcher,” Snitker said. “They’re not trying to do that. We move our guys back some on a particular hitter. Not many of them, but for the guys that are like that, rather than get hit, move them back.”

On the third pitch of Ozuna’s fourth-inning at-bat, Dodgers starter Gavin Stone threw Ozuna a 92-mph fastball that was well inside. It probably would’ve been called a ball had Ozuna let it pass. He swung and hit a fly ball to left field, but struck Smith’s head on his backswing.

“He’s trying to steal a strike on the inside,” Ozuna said. “Maybe he thought it was a good time to throw that pitch in and steal a strike. I was just ready to swing, and I swung and hit him. I don’t have eyes in the back of my head. I’m not saying, ‘I’m going to hit him back there.’ No.”

Ozuna said Smith told him that he must control his bat.

“Bro, you cannot change my mechanics,” Ozuna said. “I cannot change my mechanics because you said so. The only thing you can do is back up. That’s it, back up.”

Smith took the suggestion on Tuesday. He said he positioned himself “way back” when Ozuna hit.

As the exchange occurred, both bullpens walked onto the outfield. The benches could’ve cleared had the situation been worse. Orlando Arcia, who hit behind Ozuna, calmed Ozuna. Ronald Acuña Jr. went out to walk Ozuna to the dugout.

As the incident ended, the broadcast camera caught former Brave Freddie Freeman watching the end of it all. In the outfield, Braves reliever Jesse Chavez stood with his arms crossed.

Nothing came of the heated exchange.

“You see me, I’m not looking for trouble,” Ozuna said. “I’m never looking for trouble. I never want to do anything to hurt you. I don’t want to hurt you.”

Ozuna is known for clipping catchers with his backswing.

“And most of the time, I see him apologizing for doing it,” Snitker said. “He doesn’t want to do that. That’s the last thing he wants to do is try and hurt somebody.”

Added Ozuna: “Bro, I’ve been in the league 10 years. They know how I swing.”

Ozuna said his teammates told him to tell Smith to back up during his next at-bat. So when Ozuna went up to the plate in the sixth inning, he did that.

“Back up,” he said he told Smith. “If you don’t want to get hit again, back up. Because on the inside pitch, I have to extend my swing.”

Throughout the interview, Ozuna remained adamant about a couple of points: He did not do it on purpose, and he will not alter his swing mechanics because of this.

After the incident, Ozuna said some of his teammates let him know that Smith recently suffered a concussion. Ozuna hadn’t known this.

“I don’t want to hit nobody to put them out for a week, two weeks, three weeks,” Ozuna said.