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

ATLANTA (AP) — Marcell Ozuna had three hits including one of four Braves home runs and Atlanta's offensive resurgence continued in a 9-2 rout of the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday.

Jarred Kelenic, in his first game batting leadoff 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 11th home run of the season.

“He can assume 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’s done what we brought him in to do. I’ve been more than pleased with his defensive abilities. 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 for it now.”

Charlie Morton (4-3) allowed one run on three hits over six innings while striking out eight, walking two and hitting two batters. He also picked a runner off first.

“They are a good matchup 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 have lost seven of nine. He gave up five runs on six hits, walked three and struck out four.

Pepiot started with four scoreless innings, then ran into trouble with two outs in the fifth. The Braves touched him for three home runs and he was unable to get out of the inning.

“I thought he threw the ball really really well,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “The changeup to Kelenic, I think it was a 3-2 changeup, he was looking for a strike right there. Kelenic swung the bat well today and got a hold of them. After that fastball, (Pepiot) certainly could be gassed in the condition that he was pitching in. He kind of overthrew some pitches and they kind of made us pay."

Ozuna's home run came during the three-home run barrage that broke open the game. With the Rays leading 1-0, Kelenic lifted one to right field that barely cleared the wall. After Ozzie Albies walked, Ozuna hit his homer 423 feet to center, and then Olson followed with a solo shot.

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

“Once we took the lead right there and knowing I had the big guys coming up behind me, we can capitalize with a big inning there,” Kelenic said.

The Braves' offense, the most prolific in the majors in 2023, struggled through May and the beginning of June, and the team was hoping the bats would warm up along with the weather. Saturday, the temperature in Atlanta hit 94 and the Braves had their first four-home run game since April 19. They have scored 22 runs in their last three games after scoring just 16 in seven games previous to that.

The Rays scored in the first inning when Josh Lowe drove in Brandon Lowe with a sacrifice fly. Randy Arozarena added a solo home run in the ninth. Braves pitchers combined to strike out 12.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Rays: Infielder José Caballero missed Saturday’s game after being pulled in the third inning Friday night due to illness. Manager Kevin Cash said Caballero was still feeling “under the weather.”

Braves: Harris has a Grade 2 hamstring strain according to Snitker. The team placed him on the 10-day IL, but the expectation is he will be 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. He was 1 for 4 on Saturday.

UP NEXT

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

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AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/mlb