Marlins rookie center fielder Marcell Ozuna won’t tell anyone what is inside his chewing tobacco mix, but whatever is in there, teammate Jose Fernandez said, “it is pretty strong.”
“It’s a special Dominican mix,” the 22-year-old Ozuna said earlier this week as he was putting the bite-size dips into tiny Ziploc bags near his locker. “It’s good.”
Fifty games into his big-league career, Ozuna definitely has given the Marlins some eye-opening numbers to chew on.
When it comes to hitting with runners in scoring position, Ozuna isn’t just among the best rookies in baseball. He’s among the best in the game. Of players with at least 50 at-bats with runners in scoring position, he ranks fifth with a .420 average. Only Miguel Cabrera (.461), Carlos Beltran (.455), Allen Craig (.455) and Paul Goldschmidt (.420) are better.
Other big-league regulars hitting over .400 with runners in scoring position: Freddie Freeman (.419), Yadier Molina (.405), Chris Davis (.405) and Brandon Phillips (.400).
Last season, the Marlins only had one hitter — Justin Ruggiano (.313) — hit better than .300 with runners in scoring position. As a group, the Marlins hit just .234 in those situations in 2012. This year, with Ozuna’s bat in the lineup since the end of April, the team is hitting .237 with runners in scoring position.
“My goal is to hit over .300 and drive in 90 runs,” said Ozuna, who last year at Single A Jupiter hit .266, smacked 24 homers and drove in 95 runs. “Even if I’m not hitting homers, it doesn’t bother me. I’m all about hitting line drives and driving in runs.”
General manager Mike Hill said the Marlins aren’t worried that Ozuna has only hit two homers in his first 195 big-league at-bats. They like Ozuna as a run producer.
“It’s great to see young players stay within themselves, not try to do too much, take what the opposing team is giving you,” Hill said. “Let’s hopes he continues, doesn’t expand the strike zone and continues to get big hits for us.”
After going into a brief 2-for-31 slump earlier this month and appearing as though he might have hit a rookie wall, Ozuna quickly snapped out of it after delivering the game-winning pinch hit against the Giants last week. He has hit .408 over his past six games, raising his average to .297 as the Marlins prepare to open a four-game series against the visiting Padres on Friday night.
“He’s being more patient,” hitting coach Tino Martinez said. “I told him he’s got to wait for the right balls to hit. They’re not going to challenge him with fastballs all the time. He’s been taking sliders out of the zone, changeups out of the zone and just waiting for good pitches to hit.
“He knows how to hit.”
His defense hasn’t been bad either. His seven outfield assists are second to Gerardo Parra and Carlos Gonzalez, who are tied for the National League lead with nine.
“I definitely feel more comfortable now in center,” said Ozuna, who moved over from right field when Giancarlo Stanton returned on June 10. “I have a chance to run more, cover more ground and get to more balls. I like that.”
COMING UP• Friday: Marlins RHP Ricky Nolasco (4-7, 3.68 ERA) vs. San Diego Padres RHP Edinson Volquez (5-6, 5.67), 7:10 p.m., Marlins Park.
• Saturday: Marlins RHP Jacob Turner (1-0, 1.97) vs. Padres RHP Andrew Cashner (5-3, 3.34), 7:10 p.m., Marlins Park.
• Scouting report: This could be Nolasco’s last start in a Marlins uniform. The last time he faced the Padres, Nolasco gave up four hits and one earned run in a 1-0 loss in San Diego on May 8.