Marcell Ozuna has shown how valuable he can be to the Marlins’ lineup when he’s locked in at the plate.
Staying productive for an entire season is the next step for the Marlins’ talented outfielder one year after he was named an All-Star for the first time.
Ozuna hit .266 while driving in 76 runs and matching his career-high in home runs with 23. He also hit a career-best six triples.
But the first half of the season which earned him a trip to San Diego’s Petco Park as one of four Marlins’ All-Stars along with the late Jose Fernandez, A.J. Ramos and then-Miami reliever Fernando Rodney told a different story than the second.
Ozuna started 77 of the first 81 games of last season, hitting .314 with 17 home runs and 47 RBI.
Those numbers dipped in the second half, as Ozuna hit only .206 with six home runs and 29 RBI in 67 games.
Ozuna has been working on his approach and pitch selection in order develop more consistency at the plate.
“I’ve learned a lot and I’m trying to stay in the zone and make good adjustments,” Ozuna said. “I’m hoping the work I put in during the offseason will produce results.”
Ozuna is off to a good start so far.
This spring, Ozuna has hit four home runs — most among last year’s regulars — and three doubles.
With Martin Prado expected to miss an undetermined amount of games to open the season, Ozuna’s production in the lineup, likely in the No. 6 spot could really provide a boost.
“It’s just a consistent mindset as far his at-bats of getting a good pitch to hit, staying within a game plan and within a strike zone,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “If he’s swinging at strikes, he’s going to hit the balls hard.”
Ozuna, Christian Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton make up an outfield that was rated No. 4 overall in the majors recently by MLB.com.
Ozuna, who has played mostly in center field during his career, will move primarily to left field this season with Yelich switching to center.
Ozuna has played in left field 22 times in his career with 11 of those appearances coming last season and 11 more during his previous strong season in 2014 when he also hit 23 home runs and finished with a career-best 85 RBI.
Ozuna’s defense is something both he and the Marlins are confident about.
“I feel great and trying to finish strong and focusing more on my hitting and get the job done looking to get the season off on the right foot,” Ozuna said.
Tom Koehler treated Monday’s start in Jupiter as his last dress rehearsal before the upcoming season, and put up solid results.
With a fastball that topped out at 96 mph, Koehler cruised through five scoreless innings in which he gave up only one hit and walked one, striking out seven. He recorded two more outs in the sixth and gave up four unearned runs after a fielding error by Derek Dietrich that helped the Mets win the game 5-0.
Koehler, whose ERA has gone from 3.81 in 2014 to 4.08 the following year to 4.31 last season, said he’s feeling strong going into the season. He got the chance to pitch to starting catcher J.T. Realmuto on Monday making it feel more like a regular season game and threw 87 pitches.
“We weren’t just going to throw a pitch just to throw it,” Koehler said. “We were pitching sequences, as if it were a pitch in May or June. Still some areas you want to clean up, but we’re definitely where we want to be going into the season.”
▪ Tuesday (ss): Marlins RHP Edinson Volquez vs. Astros LHP Dallas Keuchel, 1:05 p.m., Jupiter; Marlins RHP Scott Copeland vs. Nationals TBA, 6:35 p.m., West Palm Beach.
▪ Wednesday: Marlins RHP Dan Straily vs. Astros TBA, 1:05 p.m., West Palm Beach.