After returning to Atlanta on Wednesday to be evaluated by highly regarded hand specialist Dr. Gary Lourie, Ozuna updated his status via Instagram. His message written in Spanish essentially translated to, “Thank God, nothing more serious happened. Now wait six more weeks recovering.”
Lourie’s examination found fractures in both the middle and ring fingers of Ozuna’s left hand. No surgery will be necessary. But Braves manager Brian Snitker had been holding out hope that his veteran slugger might have simply dislocated the fingers. That was the original diagnosis when X-rays taken on Tuesday didn’t show a fracture.
“I was hoping they wouldn’t have found anything and he’d have been back in a few days after allowing the swelling to go down,” Snitker said. “This is a significant time to be without a big player on your team.”
Ozuna suffered the injury as he attempted to advance from second to third base on Ozzie Albies' sharp grounder during the third inning. The Braves veteran dove toward the bag, attempting to beat second baseman Kiké Hernández's throw. His ring finger appeared to bend awkwardly as his left hand crossed over Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers' left foot.
“With hands you just don’t know,” Snitker said. “That’s why they sent him back to Atlanta. You have to get the MRIs and CT scans and all that kind of stuff just to make sure what is going on. I guess the good thing is there won’t be a surgical process. They just cast him up and it’s going to take time.”
Before suffering the injury, Ozuna had fueled Atlanta's two-run third with an RBI double off Garrett Richards. He has hit just .213 with a .645 OPS this season. But he drew MVP consideration when he led the National League with 18 homers and produced a 1.067 OPS over last year’s 60-game regular season.
Along with losing one of their lineup’s most capable bats, the Braves have lost yet another one of their Opening Day starting outfielders. Top prospect Cristian Pache is back on the injured list with his second hamstring ailment of the season. But even when he is healthy enough to return, he’ll most likely be sent back to Triple-A to spend time completing his offensive development.
The Braves opted to play one man short on Wednesday, as they concluded their two-game series against the Red Sox with Ender Inciarte in center and Guillermo Heredia moving over to fill Ozuna’s void in left field. But by the time Friday’s series begins against the Mets at Citi Field, the club will have had added a position player to replace Ozuna on the roster.
“It's going to be an opportunity for somebody to do something really good,” Snitker said. “So we'll just kind of regroup here and see what we’ve got.”
If the Braves simply want to promote an outfielder from Triple-A Gwinnett, they would likely need to go with Abraham Almonte. A 40-man roster spot would be needed. But that could be created by transferring Huascar Ynoa to the 60-day injured list.
Almonte has just a .668 career OPS, but he has tasted more success than Travis Demeritte at the Major League level. As for highly regarded prospect Drew Waters, he certainly needs more time at the Minor League level. He hit three homers over a pair of games last week, but has since gone 1-for-18 with eight strikeouts. He’s hitting .250 with a .796 OPS through 16 games for Triple-A Gwinnett.
Snitker said the club has discussed the possibility of moving Austin Riley to left field. But along with being one of the game’s best offensive performers over the past month, he has provided stellar defense at the hot corner. So, that seems to be a less likely option right now.