Marcell Ozuna returns to Braves lineup days after DUI arrest

Braves outfielder Marcell Ozuna returned to the lineup Sunday, two days after his DUI arrest.

Outfielder Eddie Rosario had soreness from a hamstring injury he sustained earlier in the homestand. He was available off the bench but didn’t start the game, which resulted in Ozuna hitting eighth and manning left field. It was Ozuna’s first game since Aug. 14.

Ozuna received boos during pregame player introductions. He went 0-for-2 with two strikeouts, getting booed walking up to the plate and following the at-bats. He was removed for Rosario as a pinch hitter in the seventh.

“It’s kind of motivating, just don’t listen to what they say and keep my head up and do my best,” Ozuna said of the booing Sunday. He later added: “Whatever the fans say that’s negative, I just ignore it and put it away.”

Ozuna’s on-field production has been mostly putrid, especially recently. The 31-year-old is hitting .170 with a .507 OPS over 12 games this month. He’s hit .179/.188/.321 with two doubles and three homers across 20 games since the All-Star break.

Braves manager Brian Snitker previously confirmed Ozuna had recently been left out of the lineup for performance reasons. That was an easier decision to make as newcomer Robbie Grossman heated up offensively. But Ozuna returned to left field Sunday because of Rosario’s injury and Ronald Acuña serving as the designated hitter. Grossman started in right field.

“So we had to play somebody in left,” Snitker said Sunday. “I told Marcell, he’s part of this team. He’s going to play left field. Right-handers had had a little success off their starter (Jose Urquidy). That’s it. He’s on this team. He needs to help.”

Snitker later reiterated: “He’s on our team right now. He’s a member of our team. We’re going to play him as needed.”

Ozuna was arrested early Friday and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol. The Braves and Ozuna issued statements but didn’t comment further, citing it being a legal matter. Ozuna said he apologized to his teammates and fans.

The recent events continued a troubling trend for Ozuna, who 15 months ago was arrested in connection with a domestic assault at his home. The charges were later reduced, and Ozuna entered a pretrial diversion program. He was retroactively suspended 20 games without pay. Due to injury and his legal situation, Ozuna played in only 48 games last season.

Ozuna began the 2022 campaign as the Braves’ left fielder. He’s also logged time as the designated hitter. But Ozuna, who parlayed his exceptional 2020 season into a long-term deal, has greatly underwhelmed. He’s hit .213/.262/.391 across 108 games, leading the team to heavily reduce his at-bats.

The Braves are beginning a six-game road trip Monday to Pittsburgh and St. Louis. Ozuna acknowledged going on the road could benefit him performance-wise.

“I just don’t feel good at the plate,” Ozuna said Sunday. “My swings are messed up a bit, my timing. As soon as we go on the road, I might be getting back and swinging better.”

The Braves signed Ozuna to a four-year, $65 million contract following the 2020 campaign. He has $33 million remaining on his deal following this season.