Miami Marlins

Marcell Ozuna nearing potential starting spot in All-Star Game

Miami Marlins left fielder Marcell Ozuna rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run during the second inning of a baseball game against the Oakland Athletics at Marlins Park on Wednesday, June 14, 2017, in Miami.
Miami Marlins left fielder Marcell Ozuna rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run during the second inning of a baseball game against the Oakland Athletics at Marlins Park on Wednesday, June 14, 2017, in Miami. dsantiago@elnuevoherald.com

An injury opened the door for Marcell Ozuna to start his first All-Star Game in 2016.

There’s a reasonable chance Ozuna might not need a last-minute bump this time.

Ozuna’s torrid first half is being noticed by fans much more a year after he made his All-Star debut as he ascended to fifth in the National League voting to start in the outfield in his home ballpark when the All-Star Game is played in Miami on July 11.

Giancarlo Stanton is seventh with 823,558 votes.

Nationals’ superstar Bryce Harper (2,827,330 votes) and the Rockies’ Charlie Blackmon (2,259,867) have pretty much locked up two outfield spots.

But as of Monday, Ozuna has 871,393 votes, which is a lot closer to the pair of Chicago Cubs he trails for the third and final starting outfield spot — Jason Heyward (973,333) and Ben Zobrist (887,804).

No other Marlin is in the top five at any other position.

Ozuna, who made it last year as a reserve before an injury to Yoenis Cespedes moved him into the NL’s starting lineup, entered Monday’s game hitting .324 with a team-best 18 home runs and 49 RBI. Last season, Ozuna was hitting .319 with 13 homers and 41 RBI through June 19.

Ozuna trails only Blackmon (.328) and Matt Kemp (.324) in batting average among NL outfielders entering Monday but has much better power numbers than Kemp’s 11 homers and 32 RBI.

Harper (54) and Blackmon (51) are the only ones in the group ahead of Ozuna in RBI, and Ozuna is tied for second with Jay Bruce and Scott Schebler in home runs and only one behind Dodgers rookie Cody Bellinger, who has hit 19.

“The biggest change Ozuna has made is forcing pitchers to throw strikes,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “Nobody really ‘out-stuffs’ him and you can’t say that about too many guys.”

Stanton, who is a virtual lock if healthy to participate in the Home Run Derby that he won last year in San Diego, appears to have a good chance of making the roster at least as a reserve.

Stanton is hitting .277 which is his best average at this point in the season since he hit .295 through June 19, 2014 — one of his three All-Star seasons. In each of Stanton’s All-Star years, he hit .261 or better with at least 14 home runs and 42 RBI as of June 19 of that year.

After two roster replacements because of injuries, a total of nine outfielders made the All-Star Game roster last season. All-Star fan voting concludes at 11:59 p.m. on June 29.

ALL-STAR COACH

Mattingly said before Monday’s game he accepted Cubs manager Joe Maddon’s invitation to coach with him on the National League staff at this year’s All-Star Game.

"I like being a part of the game and been to a few," Mattingly said. "It’s always fun to be a part of that atmosphere and for it to be here in Miami, it should be fun."

Mattingly was a six-time All-Star during his career with the New York Yankees and has served as an All-Star coach in the past most recently under Giants coach Bruce Bochy in the 2015 game in Cincinnati.

ALMOST BACK

▪ Miguel Rojas’ recovery from a broken thumb also appears to be on schedule, and he said Monday he’s optimistic he will be back before the All-Star break.

Rojas has begun throwing and fielding drills and said he plans to start hitting later this week with a potential rehab assignment potentially in the works soon after pending doctor’s approval.

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Miami Marlins short stop Miguel Rojas (19) throws in the second inning as the Marlins host the Tampa Bay Rays at Marlins Park on Tuesday, May 2, 2017. AL DIAZ adiaz@miamiherald.com

▪ Martin Prado (hamstring) and Adeiny Hechavarria (oblique) have each played in only two rehab games at Double A because of some weather issues in Jacksonville. Mattingly said the team would like to have them play a few more games because of their prolonged stints on the DL.

ROSTER MOVE

▪ With Justin Nicolino starting Monday, the Marlins optioned Drew Steckenrider to Triple A New Orleans.

COMING UP

▪ Tuesday: Marlins RHP Edinson Volquez (3-7, 3.72 ERA) vs. Washington Nationals LHP Gio Gonzalez (6-1, 2.89), 7:10 p.m., Marlins Park.

▪ Wednesday: Marlins RHP Dan Straily (5-4, 3.58 ERA) vs. Nationals RHP Max Scherzer (8-4, 2.26), 12:10 p.m., Marlins Park.

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