Marcell Ozuna is grateful to still be wearing a Marlins uniform these days.
Ozuna spent most of the offseason wondering where his next baseball destination would be following a subpar 2015 campaign that cast doubt over whether the 25-year-old Dominican outfielder can live up to his previously perceived potential.
“I’m happy because they gave me a new opportunity,” Ozuna said. “Everything that happened last year made me a stronger person. I had to stay positive and have faith God would put me in the best position possible. Last year, I didn’t work the way I know I’m capable.”
Ozuna’s offensive numbers dropped significantly following a solid first full season in the majors in 2014.
The Marlins entertained numerous offers this winter from other clubs interested in the center fielder many including first-year manager Don Mattingly believe has the talent to be a prolific weapon in any lineup.
“With young guys, the second year is tough because you fight to make it here [to the majors] and then you get here and you better keep working because everyone’s trying to figure you out,” Mattingly said. “Handling that adjustment is the hard part.
“You just don’t find guys like him. The reason almost every club was calling us about him is because people see he’s that kind of talent. I’m glad he’s here with us.”
Ozuna belted 23 home runs, drove in 85 runs and hit .269 with a .455 slugging percentage in 152 games in 2014.
A year later, Ozuna hit .259 with a .383 slugging percentage and only 10 home runs and 44 RBI.
The Marlins demoted Ozuna to the minors on July 5 in the midst of an 0-for-19 stretch.
During a 5 1/2-week, 33-game stint at Triple A New Orleans that he described as being “in jail,” Ozuna hit .317 with five home runs, 11 RBI and had a .558 slugging percentage.
Once recalled on Aug. 15, Ozuna’s numbers slightly improved. During his final 162 at-bats, Ozuna hit .278 with six home runs and 18 RBI.
The team believed poor conditioning likely contributed to the problem.
Ozuna has seemingly turned the page, arriving at camp looking lighter after he said he dropped about 20 pounds. He opened the spring by hitting safely in each of his first five at-bats.
“It’s been great so far,” Ozuna said. “I’m just working on some little things I need in order to be ready and praying to have a great season.”
Ozuna has been placed in a prime spot in the lineup so far this spring, where he has hit behind National League batting champion Dee Gordon and ahead of Christian Yelich when the season begins. Ozuna has hit in that spot in only 21 of the 346 games he has played in his career, spending 276 of those games hitting somewhere between fourth and sixth in the lineup.
“For me, I will bat wherever they need me,” Ozuna said. “As long as I have a spot in the lineup, I’m happy wherever they put me. We’re in 2016, not 2015, so it’s a fresh start for me.”
Xavier Scruggs and Derek Dietrich each belted hanging curveballs from Red Sox pitchers to drive in a combined five runs in the third inning of an 11-8 Marlins win Saturday.
Dietrich hit a two-run double to right-center off starter Chris Owens, and Scruggs followed with a three-run blast to left center off reliever Jorge Marban. Chris Narveson started and tossed three scoreless innings, allowing four hits and a walk and striking out one against most of the Red Sox regulars, including David Ortiz, who grounded into two double plays.
Former Marlin Hanley Ramirez hit his first home run of the spring with a solo blast over the left-field wall.
THIS AND THAT
▪ Jose Fernandez threw 49 pitches in a simulated three innings Saturday on one of the back fields at the Roger Dean Stadium Complex in Jupiter. Mattingly said Gordon and Ozuna were a part of it and got in at-bats as well. Fernandez is lined up to make his next spring start Thursday against the Mets in Jupiter.
▪ The Marlins intended to give Chris Johnson the start in left field, but the same back stiffness that kept him out Friday forced him out of the lineup again Saturday.
▪ Sunday: Marlins RHP Tom Koehler vs. Mets RHP Matt Harvey, 1:05 p.m., Jupiter.