SAN DIEGO -- Growing up in Santo Domingo and watching childhood heroes David Ortiz, Vladimir Guerrero and Manny Ramirez belt mammoth big-league home runs, Marlins 22-year old rookie right fielder Marcell Ozuna grew up with the idea that crushing baseballs was the quickest way to the majors.
“We used to play on the streets with these rubber balls, and I used to have these incredible hits with this crazy swing,’’ said Ozuna, who signed with the Marlins out of the Dominican Republic when he was 17.
“I wanted to be just like Vladimir. Great arm. Great hitter. I used to be like him and swing at all the bad pitches. That’s what I used to be all about. But not anymore. Now I try to recognize pitches in the [strike] zone. Control is the key.’’
A controlled, confident hitter is exactly what Ozuna (6-1, 222) has been since being called up from Double A Jacksonville to help fill the shoes of injured All-Star Giancarlo Stanton a week ago.
Ozuna has produced a hit in each of his first six games (.478, one homer, four RBI) and became the second-fastest player in club history to achieve a four-hit game when he finished 4 for 5 Sunday against the Phillies. Only Hanley Ramirez was faster, producing a four-hit game in his fourth game.
If Ozuna is able to produce hits in each of the team’s three games here against the Padres, he would pass Alejandro De Aza (eight) for the longest hitting streak to open a career in Marlins team history.
“What he’s done is energize this team,’’ Redmond said. “He’s showing that youthful exuberance where he’s just going out there playing, having fun and has got nothing to lose. And, really, that’s the attitude we should have all the time.
“From seeing him last year to this year, he’s a totally different guy. He’s patient with the strike zone. You always try to watch how he does in certain situations. Bases loaded, second and third, it doesn’t seem to bother him at all. And he’s going out there and staying within himself and getting a good pitch to hit. Right now he’s having a lot of fun out there, and it’s fun to watch him.’’
As the manager for Single A Dunedin last season, Redmond didn’t see that same patience from Ozuna when he played against him in the Florida State League. Aside from hitting .266 and producing 24 homers and 95 RBI for Jupiter last season, Ozuna also struck out 116 times. Redmond said while he once compared Ozuna to the free-swinging Guerrero, he isn’t doing it anymore.
“Sometimes guys come up to the big leagues from the minor leagues and they just lock in,’’ Redmond said. “For whatever reason they just feel comfortable and they know what they’ve got to do and their concentration level is higher and they rise to the occasion. And that’s what he’s been able to do.’’
Defensively, Ozuna said, he feels more than capable of playing anywhere in the Marlins outfield and will be more than happy to move elsewhere when Stanton returns from the disabled list. In his career, though, Ozuna has played 399 of his 445 minor-league games in right field.
“I love center field. I feel like I can cover a lot of ground, have the legs to do it,’’ Ozuna said. “If they put me in left, I learn how to play there, too. I’ll play wherever they need me. The thing for me is to stay up here. Living in the minors is tough. I’d prefer to stay up here and not have to go back.’’