A year after being banished to the minors, Marcell Ozuna is making dead certain he won’t be headed back there anytime soon.
Ozuna banged out five hits on Saturday, including a big two-run single that helped the Marlins gain a split of their day-night doubleheader with the Washington Nationals.
After dropping the first game 6-4, the Marlins salvaged the day with a 7-1 victory in the nightcap. They’ll send out Jose Fernandez on Sunday in a bid to split the four-game series.
“To be able to get this one after the first one [Saturday] and [Friday night], so you don’t want to get in here [Sunday] with a chance of being swept,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “With Jose [on Sunday], you feel like you’ve got your guy. It gives us a decent chance of splitting.”
Ozuna has been on a tear at the plate. On Saturday, he extended his hitting streak to 13 with two hits in the first game, then added three in the second game to make it 14 in a row.
“There was a lot of talk about Ozuna this winter, and his year last year, but I think it just tells you how young guys progress,” Mattingly said.
Since the streak started on April 30, Ozuna has raised his average from .218 to .313.
The Marlins held a 3-1 lead in the fifth when Ozuna came up with two outs and the bases loaded. He slapped a single up the middle to make it 5-1, then scored on J.T. Realmuto’s two-run single.
Jose Urena was credited with the win in relief of Kendry Flores, who was brought up from the minors just for the one start but came out after three innings with a strained right shoulder. Flores was placed on the 15-day disabled list.
As for the first game, starting pitcher Justin Nicolino started out slow and the Marlins never recovered.
Nicolino doesn’t strike out many people. He doesn’t walk many, either. The pitcher lives and breathes on soft contact, utilizing his pinpoint accuracy to induce weak ground balls and harmless pop flies despite less-than-dominating stuff.
But when the formula fails, it’s usually bad news for the low-velocity lefty.
That was the doomsday scenario for Nicolino when he walked the first three Nationals batters — all of whom ended up scoring — as the Marlins lost the first game of the day-night doubleheader.
“That’s not who I am as a pitcher,” Nicolino said. “Never have been that way. To see three guys on base to start a game, without one single hit, that was very frustrating.”
Nicolino became the first Marlins pitcher to start a game with three consecutive walks since Anibal Sanchez did it in 2009. And of the seven Marlins hurlers ever to walk three in a row right after the curtain opened, he was probably the least likely.
Nicolino averages only 2 1/2 walks per nine innings.
“That’s not really characteristic of him,” Mattingly said. “He’s usually in the strike zone, making guys swing the bat.”
But minus his usual control on Saturday, Nicolino helped bury the Marlins in an early hole from which they were never able to recover. They chipped away one run at a time in the matinee, closing to within a run on three separate occasions, but always to no avail.
Christian Yelich provided the Marlins with a brief 1-0 lead with his first-inning homer off Stephen Strasburg, who last week signed a seven-year, $175 million contract with Washington.
Yelich’s shot was his fifth of the season, landing in the center-field well.
But the lead vanished one walk at a time in the bottom of the first. Nicolino walked Michael Taylor on four pitches, Anthony Rendon on five and Bryce Harper on five.
All three ended up scoring: Taylor and Rendon on sacrifice flies and Harper on Jayson Werth’s single.
“I was kind of all over the place,” Nicolino said. “It took three hitters to finally get in the zone. It could have got out of hand really bad.”
It remained 3-1 until the fifth, when the Marlins and Nationals began trading volleys. Yelich made it 3-2 with an RBI double. Rendon stretched the lead back to two at 4-2 with his single in the fifth.
The Marlins trimmed it back to one with a Jeff Mathis single in the sixth. But the Nationals made it a two-run lead again in the bottom of the sixth on a Wilson Ramos home run off Nick Wittgren.
“It seems like every time we scored, they ended up getting another one,” Mattingly said.
Wittgren became the fourth Marlins reliever to serve up a home run in two games. Bryan Morris, Kyle Barraclough and Dustin McGowan gave up homers in Friday night’s loss to Washington.
Still, the Marlins refused to go away. Martin Prado’s RBI single in the seventh made it 5-4.
But the Nationals capitalized on fielding errors by Derek Dietrich and Ozuna in the eighth to tack on another run for the final margin.