Marcell Ozuna hits 1 of 4 Braves home runs in Rays’ 9-2 loss

ATLANTA – Marcell Ozuna had three hits, including one of four Braves home runs, and Atlanta’s offensive resurgence continued Saturday in a 9-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays.

Jarred Kelenic, in his first opening game for the Braves after a hamstring injury to Michael Harris II, was 3 for 5 with a home run and two RBIs, while Austin Riley hit a three-run homer in the eighth inning. Matt Olson hit his eleventh home run of the season.

“He can take on this role,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said of Kelenic hitting leadoff. “He can run, he can steal a base, he’s a really good outfielder. … He did what we brought him in to do. I am more than satisfied with his defensive capabilities. Now we’re going to ask him to do a little more than we thought. If he’s going to do it, he’s ready now.”

Charlie Morton (4-3) allowed one run on three hits in six innings, while striking out eight, walking two and hitting two batters. He was also the first to pick a runner.

“They’re a good fit for me if I can make my pitches,” Morton said.

Ryan Pepiot (4-4) suffered his first road loss of the season for the Rays, who lost seven of nine. He gave up five runs on six hits, walked three and struck out four.

Pepiot started with four scoreless innings, but ran into problems in the fifth inning with two outs. The Braves hit him for three home runs and he couldn’t get out of the inning.

“I thought he threw the ball really well,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “The change to Kelenic, I think it was a 3-2 change, he was looking to attack there. Kelenic swung the bat well today and got them. After that fastball, (Pepiot) could definitely have been gassed in the condition he was throwing. He knocked down a bunch of pitches and they kind of made us pay.”

Ozuna’s home run came during the three-home run barrage that broke the game open. With the Rays up 1-0, Kelenic lofted one to right field that barely cleared the wall. After Ozzie Albies walked, Ozuna hit his homer 450 feet to center, and Olson followed with a solo shot.

Ozuna’s two RBIs gave him an NL-leading 62 for the season.

“Once we took the lead there and knew the big guys were coming behind me, we were able to capitalize there with a big inning,” Kelenic said.

The Braves’ offense, the most productive in the Majors in 2023, struggled in May and early June, and the team hoped the bats would warm up along with the weather. The temperature in Atlanta reached 94 on Saturday and the Braves had their first four-home run game since April 19. They scored 22 points in their last three games after scoring just 16 points in the previous seven games.

The Rays scored in the first inning when Josh Lowe drove in Brandon Lowe on a sacrifice fly. Randy Arozarena added a solo home run in the ninth. The Braves pitchers combined for twelve strikeouts.

Rays: Infielder José Caballero missed Saturday’s game after being knocked out in the third inning Friday night due to illness. Manager Kevin Cash said Caballero was still “not feeling well.”

Braves: Harris has a Grade 2 hamstring injury, according to Snitker. The team placed him on the 10-day IL, but he is expected to stay there longer. The Braves promoted veteran outfielder Ramón Laureano and started him in right field. Laureano was released by Guardians in May after hitting just .143 in 31 games, but he hit .362 with Triple-A Gwinnett in 14 games. On Saturday he was 1 to 4.

Braves rookie RHP Hurston Waldrep (0-1, 17.18) makes his second Major League start on Sunday against Rays RHP Zach Eflin (3-4, 4.06) in the series finale.