Marcell Ozuna has been an interesting study this season.
To this point in the year, he’s hardly ever had an OPS above .700. His on-base percentage is below .300. He doesn’t give the Braves much defense when he plays left field.
But then you go through his big moments.
The eighth-inning homer in a win over the Padres. The eighth-inning homer in a win over the Dodgers. The ninth-inning blast in Cincinnati on a day when he hit two home runs.
And in looking at these, you realize the bigger picture – the OPS, the batting average and other metrics – might mean less because he has had a direct impact on winning games.
“Obviously a guy who’s been around forever and been doing it for a long time – in different places, different lineups,” Matt Olson said. “He’s definitely a presence in the lineup, and at any point, he can leave the yard or put together a really good at-bat.”
Entering Thursday, Ozuna had five home runs, 10 RBIs, three doubles and seven walks over 89 at-bats in innings seven through nine. He has performed in clutch spots.
The only group of innings in which he’s been better has been in the first three, where he’s hit seven homers while driving in 15 runs over 103 at-bats.
“He’s gotten a lot of big hits,” manager Brian Snitker said Wednesday. “Big hits, big homers, started rallies, (gotten) RBIs. Things like that. I kind of see him gaining a little momentum there because that could be just a really huge thing if he gets going, with what he’s capable of.”
Ozuna entered the series finale Thursday versus St. Louis batting only .229. But he’s slugged 17 homers and has driven in 35 runs. The run production is there, even if he’s lacked overall consistency.
The impressive part about Ozuna, illustrated by his numbers in the late innings, is this: You never know when he might change the game with one swing. He could have three or four poor at-bats before helping win the game with his final one.
“He’s been a good player and a really good hitter for a long, long time,” Snitker said. “He has a lot of confidence in himself, and he’s not going to get down, he’s going to want to keep fighting. He wants to be the guy that’s up there, I know that. He expects to get a hit every time he goes up there.
“He’s always been a guy that’s hit the good pitching. When he was younger, this guy was really good. He’s one of them guys that’s got a big baseball card of really, really good stuff. He’s very confident in himself, and his approach and what he wants to do.”
The Braves have a dangerous lineup. Top to bottom, they wear out pitching staffs. Anyone can be that day’s hero.
Ozuna has performed below his career numbers, and he is not a good defender in left field.
But it’s difficult to overlook his game-changing hits this season.
“He’s definitely a confident guy,” Olson said. “It comes from doing it for so long. He does a good job of not carrying previous at-bats to next at-bats, and separate them to where he could have a couple bad at-bats and come up and have those flushed and put together a good one.”
Muller earns honor for strong June
Triple-A Gwinnett left-hander Kyle Muller was named the International Pitcher of the Month for June.
The 24-year-old went 2-1 with a 1.87 ERA over five starts. He struck out 43 batters and issued only six walks. He had a 0.77 WHIP and a .171 batting average against.
He ranked among the league’s leaders for June in ERA (1st), strikeouts (1st), innings (1st), batting average against (1st) and WHIP (2nd).
“I think it’ll do Kyle a world of good to be down there and be consistent in one spot and starting, with his routine and all that, instead of (going) up and down,” manager Brian Snitker said.
In his only big-league start this season, Muller allowed seven runs and walked six over 2-2/3 innings versus the Rangers.
In 14 starts at Triple-A this season, he has posted a 2.99 ERA with 102 strikeouts.
“Now he’s being able to be consistent and string together something,” Snitker said. “That’s pretty good to be pitcher of the month. Just shows what he’s capable of doing.”
Shuster to represent Braves at Futures game
The good news for the Braves’ farm system didn’t end with Muller.
Left-hander Jared Shuster, the club’s first-round pick in 2020, will represent the organization at the Futures game July 16 at Dodger Stadium. The seven-inning contest features some of the game’s top prospects.
In 15 starts at Double-A Mississippi this season, Shuster has a 3.13 ERA over 77-2/3 innings. He has 86 strikeouts and 21 walks and has posted a 1.04 WHIP.
MLB Pipeline ranked Shuster as the Braves’ No. 8 prospect.
Triple-A Gwinett manager Matt Tuiasosopo will be the National League’s third base coach at the Futures Game.
Duvall returns to lineup
After getting hit in the hand by a pitch, Adam Duvall was not in the Braves’ starting lineup for four games. However, he played in the final two of those as he subbed in for Eddie Rosario.
Duvall on Thursday returned to the lineup to face Cardinals left-hander Matthew Liberatore.
Entering Thursday, Duvall was batting .205 with a .646 OPS. He had hit 10 homers and had 32 RBIs.
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