Marcell Ozuna admits he doubted himself — not so much as a baseball player but in his financial decision-making.
Ozuna, who was demoted to Triple A New Orleans after a July 5 game in which his batting slump had reached 1 for 36, is back with the Marlins in a big way, slugging a solo home run on Wednesday and a two-run homer on Thursday. For Friday’s home game against the Phillies, Ozuna was back in the middle of the Marlins’ lineup, batting fifth.
His two long balls in two days after hitting just four homers in the previous 83 games were telling. Last year, at age 23, Ozuna produced 23 homers and 85 RBI, asserting himself as one of the top young center fielders in baseball.
Then came the stinging demotion.
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“At first, I didn’t know why,” the native of the Dominican Republic said in Spanish. “Then I realized I wasn’t doing anything. I wasn’t helping the team like I was the previous year.
“So I said, ‘Let me work hard and try to improve some little things and get back as soon as I can.’ I fixed it, and they kept me down there for a month.”
Actually, Ozuna was in the minors for nearly six weeks, returning to the team on Aug. 15.
By keeping him in the minors as long as they did, the Marlins potentially saved themselves millions of dollars because Ozuna’s arbitration eligibility was moved back one year to 2017.
Before the season, Ozuna had rejected overtures from the Marlins, who wanted to sign him to a long-term contract similar to the way they locked up young left fielder Christian Yelich (seven years, $49.5 million).
Ozuna, preferring the right to become a free agent in 2020, when he could consider potential offers from all 30 teams, turned down the chance to sign a long-term deal early.
“At first, I didn’t question myself because I consider myself a hitter,” said Ozuna, who is earning the relatively small salary of $545,000 this season. “I think I can help any team with my power and my defense — my talent is there.
“Then in the minors, I was thinking, ‘Why didn’t I sign?’
“God knows why things happen — these are things I didn’t even discuss with anyone in my family.”
As for having his arbitration rights pushed back, Ozuna put that on the Marlins: “Those are their decisions, and they know very well how they do their things.”
Marlins manager Dan Jennings said Ozuna’s slump began when he struggled to make adjustments to how he was being pitched.
“He was tying himself up with his swing,” Jennings said. “Now, his mind-set is that he is looking away. He has such fast hands that he can adjust inside.
“His approach — he has to be looking away [first]. He and [hitting coach Frank Menechino] have spent a lot of time on that. You’re seeing now that [Ozuna] has much better balance. He’s not drifting out near as bad to the front side as he was.”
When asked about his approach, Ozuna said it’s a constant battle between hitter and pitcher. If you look away, pitchers will throw inside and vice versa.
“It was a struggle at the beginning of the season,” Ozuna said. “They sent me down, and what I did in the minors helped me a lot. Now I feel great. I’m a little piece of the team.
“I’m having a pretty good feeling at the plate. I’m just letting it fly.”
That’s exactly what happened on Thursday’s homer, which hit the left-field foul pole. Ozuna said he has lost a few potential homers this year that have gone just foul, including one that was ruled fair but overturned by video review.
Thursday’s homer was his first all season at Marlins Park. For his career, he has 19 homers on the road and 13 at home.
“It wasn’t my first [career home run at Marlins Park], and it won’t be my last,” Ozuna said. “But it did help [my confidence] a lot. When it hit the pole I said, ‘Thank you God!’ ”