As Reed Johnson came back to the Marlins dugout for a celebratory first bump with manager Mike Redmond after collecting his third hit Tuesday afternoon, Marcell Ozuna sat on a bench a few feet away inside Roger Dean Stadium taking instruction on hand bat-placement from hitting coach Frank Menechino.
While the rest of the outfielders still in camp have been swinging hot bats, Ozuna, penciled in to be the club’s Opening Day center fielder, has struggled mightily this spring. He’s five for 37 (.135) with 12 strikeouts and fighting to find some rhythm with his swing so he doesn’t lose his job.
“I’m taking too many pitches in the [strike] zone and swinging at bad pitches,” explained Ozuna, who brought life to a beleaguered Marlins lineup at the end of April last season and hit .265 with three homers and 32 RBI in 70 games before breaking his left thumb in late July.
“My timing sometimes is early. Sometimes it’s late,” Ozuna continued. “When I [swing] late I get a lot of outs. When I [swing] early I’m pretty good. I’m working with Frank every day. He says swing down, don’t swing up, don’t hit fly balls. I’m watching videos.”
Considering Johnson (hitting .438, 14 for 32) and Jake Marisnick (.375, 12 for 32) have been so impressive this spring, one would assume it might be smarter for the Marlins to just send Ozuna down to the minors when camp breaks.
But that’s not necessarily the way the club is thinking. Redmond said Tuesday he’s “still expecting [Ozuna] to be out there on Opening Day.”
“We feel comfortable with what he’s able to do,” said Redmond, who points to the three walks Ozuna has drawn in his last three games as a sign of a more patient approach of late. “I think sometimes in spring training you just need a hit to kind of jump start you and get your confidence back and going.”
Redmond said in the end the Marlins will “make a decision that’s best for our team in going forward and winning ballgames.” But he also said the Marlins liked what Ozuna did last year and “you don’t always judge on spring training results alone. “
Ozuna, who hit .277 with two homers and 12 RBI in 34 games in the Dominican Republic this winter, said his thumb hasn’t been an issue and that he’s swinging hard. It’s all timing and confidence, Redmond said.
“He’s a worker. He works his butt off,” Redmond said of Ozuna, who said he’s usually in camp by 6:40 a.m. and in the batting cages with Menechino by 7 a.m. on most mornings.
“Sometimes it’s not a mechanical thing. Sometimes It’s a confidence thing,” Redmond continued. “I know when you have guys battling for positions all we ever talk about are the stats. This guy is hitting this and this guy is hitting that. Like I said, there’s way more to the evaluation process for us than the numbers.”
MARLINS 8, ASTROS 1
For the second straight day, Giancarlo Stanton smacked a mammoth three-run home run and the Marlins offense exploded, producing a spring-high 18 hits in an 8-1 win over the visiting Astros.
Marisnick, Johnson, Donovan Solano and Derek Dietrich — all hitting better than .350 this spring — each had three hits in the win.
Jacob Turner turned in his finest start of the spring, giving up only two hits and one earned run with three walks and three strikeouts over five innings. His Grapefruit League ERA is now down to 3.38 after giving up just two earned runs over his last nine innings.
“After the first inning I felt good,” said Turner, who gave up a run in the first after making his second throwing error of the spring on a pickoff attempt. “A lot of good quality pitches. I got my changeup working which I was happy about. “Obviously the offense was awesome today.”
Even though the Marlins on Wednesday will enjoy their first day off since Grapefruit League began, pitchers Tom Koehler and Brad Hand — fighting for the fifth spot in the starting rotation — will still be getting work in.
Koehler (2-0, 0.75 ERA, 11 Ks, 2 BBs, 12 innings this spring) is scheduled to start and pitch six innings in a minor league game in Jupiter. Hand (2-0, 0.75 ERA, 15 Ks, 2 BBs, 12 innings this spring) will pitch an inning of relief in the same game.
At this point, it looks like both players will find a spot among the 12 pitchers the Marlins take into the regular season, with the loser for the starting job serving as the team’s long reliever. But the fact Koehler is starting Wednesday and Hand is relieving him could be a sign of which way the Marlins are leaning.
“I think we’re close [to finalizing the rotation], but pitching always comes down to the last couple of days,” Redmond said.