Returning to the Marlins was like escaping prison for Marcell Ozuna.
The slugging outfielder, who was optioned to Triple A New Orleans on July 5, was recalled by the Marlins on Saturday and started in center field in the second of a three-game series against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium. Ozuna took the roster spot of outfielder Christian Yelich, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a right knee contusion.
“I was in the jail over there. It’s like a jail,” Ozuna said of his time with the Zephyrs. “But it’s OK. I’m back, and I’m going to help the team, help Miami.”
Ozuna, who batted .269 with 23 home runs and 85 RBI in 153 games last year, was demoted earlier this season while mired in a 1-for-36 slump. He was hitting .249 at the time with four homers and 26 RBI in 79 games but suggested Saturday that there was another reason he was sent to the minors.
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Ozuna’s agent, Scott Boras, told the Miami Herald last month that the Marlins demoted the 24-year-old Dominican to potentially delay his arbitration eligibility.
Ozuna, who according to Baseball-Reference.com is making $545,000 this year, entered the season with one year and 153 days of major-league service time and will be arbitration eligible either three or four times before becoming eligible for free agency after the 2019 season.
“They tell me you’re going down for work, get your feeling back and you come back,” Ozuna said Saturday. “I know what happened when they sent me down. I knew that’s coming. I don’t go there for work, because they know me. I don’t need the work. One for 36, 1 for 100, every big-league player has it. I have it and everybody has it.”
Whatever the reason for Ozuna’s demotion last month, he is happy to be back in the big leagues. The Marlins are glad to have him back as well.
Marlins manager Dan Jennings said Ozuna, who batted fifth on Saturday night, brings “energy” to the ballpark and “gives us that thump in the middle of the lineup.” He batted .317 with 12 doubles, five homers and 11 RBI in 33 games with New Orleans.
“From what we hear, he did a great job down in Triple A, figured some stuff out, so we’re excited to have him back contributing for the ballclub,” Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto said. “He’s the type of hitter where at any point in the game he can take the ball out of the ballpark.”
Of course, Ozuna’s return came at the expense of Yelich. Jennings said before Friday’s series opener in St. Louis that the 23-year-old outfielder was “close” to returning to the lineup, but on Saturday he was placed on the DL, retroactive to Monday.
Yelich, batting .275 this season with six homers, 29 RBI, 37 runs scored and 14 stolen bases, injured his knee while trying to take away a home run last Sunday in Atlanta.
“It didn’t respond quite the way that he and [trainer Sean Cunningham] were hoping that it would,” Jennings said. “And because of that, going into day six now, felt like he probably wouldn’t be available throughout [Saturday] and [Sunday], so let’s go ahead and get someone so we’re not playing short.”
Jennings said Yelich, who remained with the team Saturday, would return to Miami for an MRI if his knee doesn’t show any improvement before the end of the weekend series in St. Louis.