This is not how the Braves drew it up.
The Braves entered the season with their outfield seemingly set. Ronald Acuna was comfortably stationed in right field. Marcell Ozuna, fresh off signing a four-year deal, planted in left until the designated hitter returns to the National League. Rookie Cristian Pache would take the reins in center, where he was expected to provide Gold Glove defense and promising offensive flashes.
Fifty games in, that isn’t how it’s unfolded. Pache showed that excellent defense, but he was hurting the team offensively. He’s currently on the injured list for the second time and just began a rehab stint in Triple-A, though he’s yet to play a game. It’s possible Pache stays in Gwinnett for an extended period, trying to find a rhythm with the bat.
Ozuna, who was sidelined with two fractured fingers, was arrested Saturday on charges of aggravated assault by strangulation and family violence, jail records showed. He was being held without bond in Fulton County jail Sunday with his first court appearance scheduled for Monday morning. Ozuna’s status with the team is uncertain.
The Braves move forward with an unexpected outfield mix. Acuna is joined by unheralded veteran Guillermo Heredia, who’s surpassed expectations while handling centerfield semi-regularly due to injuries, and utilityman Ehire Adrianza in left. While the Braves will mix and match in left field, Adrianza, who’s helped the Braves in difficult spots, will receive the bulk of that work in the immediate future, manager Brian Snitker said Friday.
Entering spring training, few Braves fans would’ve recognized the names Heredia or Adrianza. The Braves claimed Heredia off waivers from the Mets, the team they’re chasing in the NL East. They signed Adrianza to a minor-league deal, but the veteran had such a dominant exhibition season he earned a place on the roster.
Now both players are handling larger workloads, instead of just serving depth roles. Heredia has hit .286/.324/.457 with six doubles and two RBIs in May (10 games) while manning center regularly (he was supposed to play left field Sunday). Factor in his capable defense — despite his failed catch Saturday — and the Braves can’t ask for much more from him, especially given the general lack of production they’ve had from his position.
“Heredia has probably been one of the most steady offensive guys we’ve had,” Snitker said. “He’s done an unbelievable job getting on base.”
Adrianza is a true Swiss Army knife who’s handled a variety of positions, including center when Acuna was unavailable during a series against the Yankees. Snitker is rewarding him with an extended trial run in left field, where Adrianza can try to produce with consistent at-bats.
“He’s been awesome,” starter Ian Anderson said of Adrianza. “He’s a super utility guy. I feel comfortable with him in the infield, outfield, wherever. He puts together good at-bats and gets on base. So it’ll be fun to see him get some regular play here.”
In his career, Adrianza has excelled as a left fielder, though it’s a small sample size. In 19 games entering Saturday (when he went 0-for-3), he was .304/.396/.543 with a double, two triples, two homers and 10 RBIs across 53 plate appearances. The former Giant and Twin is also a solid defender at the position, according to his manager.
“I watched video of him in left field with Minnesota,” Snitker said. “He’s played some center. He’s an athletic guy. He’s had some big hits for us. We’ll give him that opportunity.”
The Braves need the best from Heredia and Adrianza to stay afloat. They’re 24-26 through 50 games, and while they entered Sunday only 3-1/2 games behind the Mets, given all that’s worked against them, it feels like a greater deficit.