Snitker not concerned by Ozuna's slow start

Kipnis, Adrianza competing for roster spot; Inciarte returns

March 14th, 2021

NORTH PORT, Fla. -- Braves manager Brian Snitker saw enough of last year to know he shouldn’t be concerned about what the veteran outfielder does through the first two weeks of March.

Ozuna’s current skid continued when he went hitless in three at-bats in Sunday’s 8-7 win over the Rays at CoolToday Park. Ozuna is 2-for-16 with eight strikeouts and no extra-base hits through his first eight games.

This is not uncharted waters for Ozuna. He was 3-for-28 with 14 strikeouts before the coronavirus shut down Spring Training last year. All of that was long forgotten by the time he hit an MLB-best 18 homers and finished sixth in National League Most Valuable Player Award balloting in 2020.

“He’s one you don’t worry about,” Snitker said. “When the lights come on and that thing gets real, so will he.”

Before hitting a career-best 37 homers for the Marlins in 2017, Ozuna began Grapefruit League play by going 6-for-25 with a pair of home runs in his first 10 games.

As Ozuna prepares to begin his four-year, $64 million contract, the Braves are confident he’s about to start heating up like Ronald Acuña Jr., who was 2-for-14 with five strikeouts before capping a two-hit game against the Rays on Thursday with his first homer of the spring.

Acuña added yet another homer when he went back to back with Jason Kipnis in Sunday’s fifth inning. Kipnis’ two-run shot against Yacksel Ríos was his first home run of the spring.

“[Acuña] wants to play again tomorrow,” Snitker said. “I think with a lot of these guys, once we start playing them two or three days in a row, it’s going to work for their timing and seeing more pitches.”

Kipnis halts skid
While Ozuna, Acuña and others have time to find a groove, Kipnis is fighting for a roster spot. With Sunday’s homer, the former All-Star is 4-for-17 with a pair of extra-base hits and four strikeouts.

Kipnis and Ehire Adrianza are among the backup infielders attempting to land a bench role. Adrianza walked off Sunday’s game against the Rays with a three-run homer. He is 5-for-13 with two extra-base hits and two strikeouts.

“I feel good for them,” Snitker said. “They’re both working hard. Any time you’re in a situation like that, when you have a chance to contribute or do something good, it’s a good thing. I was glad to see both of those guys come through.”

Inciarte returns
Ender Inciarte resumed his bid to regain his role as the Braves’ primary center fielder. Inciarte went 1-for-2 with a single on Sunday. This marked the first time he played since he jammed his left thumb during a March 4 game against the Pirates.

Top prospect Cristian Pache might be the favorite to win the center-field job, but as he has gone 2-for-13 with three strikeouts thus far, he has shown why Inciarte can continue to provide value as an insurance piece.

“Ender still has the talent and skills to still be a very valuable piece on this team,” Snitker said. “We’ll see how this thing plays out. We’ve got a couple games to go. There’s nothing set right now.”

Worth noting
• Chris Martin is set to make his spring debut within the next few days. The veteran right-handed reliever has been healthy throughout camp. He just opted to spend these past two weeks pitching in intrasquad games on the back fields.

• Austin Riley will return to the lineup on Monday. The third baseman impressed Snitker with many of the swings he took during a recent intrasquad game.

• Sean Kazmar Jr. continued his torrid spring when he hit his team-high third home run in the eighth inning. The 36-year-old entered this year with five homers in 208 career Spring Training at-bats, dating back to his first camp with the Padres in 2006.