Never afraid to attack hitters on the inner half of the plate, Jose Urena has frequently hit batters during his four years in the majors.
But his first pitch Wednesday night hit square on red-hot hitting Ronald Acuna, Jr.’s left elbow and set off a bench-clearing confrontation between the Marlins and Braves in the first inning of a 5-2 Miami loss at SunTrust Park.
Acuna, Jr., at 20 years old the youngest player since 1999 to hit three consecutive leadoff homers, never got a chance at a fourth when Urena nailed him on the elbow with a 97.5 mph fastball - his fastest pitch of the season.
The incident resulted in both benches and bullpens clearing and led to the ejections of both Urena and Braves manager Brian Snitker, who was seen shouting at Urena as did others including first base coach Eric Young, Sr. and center fielder Ender Inciarte.
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“I think it’s pretty evident what I thought about it,” Snitker said. “You know, that’s a shame. The young man is just playing the game, doing what he loves to do, and it’s just a damn shame what happened that first pitch of the game.
“I’ve had three hours to calm down and all of a sudden I’m not real good right now. He’s my kid. I’m gonna protect him.”
Snitker was ejected first, and after a discussion by the umpires, they decided to also eject Urena.
“That was what my conversation with the umpires was all about,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “That he wasn’t thrown out right away. Then Brian [Snitker] came back out, and then all of a sudden, he was thrown out. That’s what my biggest question was. If you think he did it on purpose, then throw him out right away, and just take care of it. But that’s not what happened.”
After the game, Urena claimed there was no intent to hit Acuna, Jr.
“I think for me I feel pretty bad,” Urena said. “People get upset and things like that, but I got upset too because how am I going to wait five days to go out there and make one pitch and get kicked out of the game? That don’t make sense, right? Always I throw inside. That’s my way for to get outs. I go inside try to take advantage and try to move [the batter’s] feet and that’s the thing.”
Mattingly also said: “Obviously, this is not something that we represent or believe in as an organization, or myself too. I would never want that kid getting hit and cause that kind of problem. I understand, yeah. If we were on the other side, and our guy was hitting homers all over the place and that happens, you’re going to be fired up. So, you understand.”
Eventually both sides began walking back to their dugouts after the initial confrontation.
But after Acuna, Jr. spent a few moments sitting on the ground getting his elbow looked at by a team trainer, he walked slowly past the edge of the mound on his way to first base as Urena watched.
Acuna then removed his shin guard and tossed it on the mound near Urena.
This set off more tensions as both sides converged again on the mound.
“Yeah that was bad because even after I hit him, I said, ‘Hey, you ok?’ And that means that I don’t want to hit him on purpose,” Urena said. “He thinks it’s on purpose and they wanted me to do something. He just kept walking with the head down, but a couple of those people, the coaches, they tried to jump in and get close. I tried to keep my mind on the game.
“The way they respond like that, they think I be crazy like I wanna hit somebody like that and hurt somebody. I just enjoy the game and try to have fun and do what I love to do. That’s what I’m here to do.”
Although only words were exchanged initially, Marlins’ right fielder Brian Anderson was shoved during the commotion by Young as both sides faced off on the mound. Young was not ejected and later told Marlins first baseman Derek Dietrich to give Anderson the message he was sorry for his actions.
“It’s understandable,” Anderson said. “In this game, people are very passionate about baseball as well they should be and something happens you kind of understand when tempers fly a little bit. When something like that happens, it’s baseball, for as long as this game’s been around. It’s probably going to continue to happen so we just have to try to deescalate the situation when something like that happens and do the right thing.
“I think that tempers just got a little hot and you could see their protective of one of their younger players and obviously he’s a great player so just trying to maintain the peace,” Anderson said. “But sometimes there’s miscommunication when all that goes on and that’s what happened today.”
Acuna, Jr. tried to man his spot in left field after the inning ended, but was removed from the game before the second inning began.
Acuna underwent X-rays after the game that came back negative, and the Braves tweeted Thursday morning that the results of a CT scan were also normal. Acuna was listed as day-to-day.
“If you watch Jose pitch, pretty much the first pitch of every game is pretty much there,” Mattingly said. “We talked with Jose right after the game and basically, he was saying, he knows the guy has been swinging the bat good. He was trying to get one close. He was trying to run it off in there, and that was the purpose of his pitch. That’s exactly what he told us. I had talked with him before that. It was like, ‘This kid is swinging the bat good. We’ve got to figure out how to get him out, right.’
“What we said with Jose, is ‘I don’t want to see this kid get hit.’ He’s a great player. He’s going to be great for a long time. For us, he’s beat us up, but this is not the way want to handle that situation.”
Urena finished the 2017 season tied for the most batters hit by pitch in the majors with 14. Urena has hit 11 batters this season and Acuna, Jr. became the second Braves’ batter he’s hit. Urena has hit 34 batters overall during his four-year career.
Urena entered Wednesday with a 0-3 record and a 6.75 ERA in 16 innings pitched (three starts) against Atlanta.
“Nothing about Urena’s past history factored into any of our decisions,” said umpire crew chief Paul Nauert. “When we go out to the game, we take each game as it presents itself. Today, the first pitch hits the kid the first time up. I think from what has transpired over the past three days, the crew felt that it was intentional. So, the action we took was to eject him.”
The league may hand out suspensions as soon as Thursday.
“I’m sure the league will be looking at the tape and I’m sure they’re going to have their discipline that they will hand down,” Nauert said. “Whatever they decide is up to them.”
Urena became the fourth starting pitcher in the Live Ball era (since 1920) to hit the only batter he faced according to ESPN Stats and Info.
Acuna, Jr., who hit leadoff homers in each of the first three games of the current series between the teams, became the youngest player to homer in five consecutive games in major league history according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Per Elias, since Acuna, Jr.’s only plate appearance resulted in a hit by pitch, his streak remains intact heading into the next game he plays.
Elieser Hernandez entered the game to pitch for the Marlins after Urena’s ejection.
Hernandez threw three scoreless innings and the Marlins jumped out to a 2-0 lead on an RBI single from Brian Anderson in the first and a solo homer by Starlin Castro in the fourth.
But Jarlin Garcia couldn’t protect the advantage as the Braves scored three in the bottom of the fourth, taking the lead for good on a two-run home run by Dansby Swanson.
It was the 15th home run Garcia has allowed this season.
The Braves (68-51) hit a total of seven home runs to sweep the four-game set and win their sixth in a row against the Marlins (48-75), who dropped their fifth in a row and 14th game in their past 16.
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