Marcell Ozuna blames himself for all that went wrong in 2015. He took the game too lightly. He was overweight. And it all spiraled out of control, as he fell out of favor within the organization, was demoted to the minors and had his name dangled in trade conversations over the winter.
“I thought everything was going to be easy,” Ozuna said of his nightmarish 2015 season. “I thought it was going to be easy because I did it before. It’s going to be easy, and I don’t have to worry.”
Ozuna, clearly, is not the same player.
In perhaps one of the most remarkable comeback stories in Marlins history, Ozuna has gone from doghouse to penthouse in the span of a year.
He’s not just been the hottest hitter on the Marlins this month. Ozuna has been the hottest hitter in the majors with a .426 average for the month of May and a 33-game streak of reaching base heading into Friday night.
“I’m having fun,” Ozuna said. “Everything’s good. I’m swinging the bat good. I’m hitting good.”
▪ Ozuna has a chance to finish with the highest month-of-May average ever by a Marlin. The record belongs to Bobby Bonilla, who hit .382 in May of 1997.
▪ He is threatening the club record for any month. That mark belongs to Preston Wilson, who hit .431 in July of 1999.
▪ For the month of May alone, Ozuna is tied for the major-league lead in runs scored with 22, ranks third in the majors with a .734 slugging percentage and is fifth in on-base percentage (.455).
▪ His run of reaching base in 33 consecutive games ranks seventh in franchise history.
“He had a good spring and a rough start in which he tried too hard early on,” manager Don Mattingly said. “But he’s capable of this. This is not just [that] he’s hot. I think this is something he can do regularly.”
The streak started around the time Ozuna began using bats he borrowed from hitting coach Barry Bonds.
But assistant hitting coach Frank Menechino said the secret to Ozuna’s newfound success has been a new stance in which he is setting his front foot early in the batter’s box when the pitcher is in his delivery.
As a result, Ozuna has become more selective, waiting to swing at strikes and not chasing pitches outside the zone — an old habit he’s erased.
“That’s the big key,” Ozuna said. “I’m getting closed [in the stance] earlier.”
After a rough 2015, Ozuna is enjoying the game again.
“I’m not the same,” he said.
Outfielders Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich remained out of the lineup for another game on Friday night.
But Yelich (back spasms) took batting practice with his teammates for the first time on Friday while Stanton took 30 swings in the cage indoors.
Mattingly said both players were available for pinch-hitting duties.
signs of life
Adeiny Hechavarria is showing he might finally be breaking out of his hitting doldrums. He went 7 for 17 in the four-game, home-and-away series against the Rays, including a 3-for-5 game Thursday when he homered.
“Hech just needs to stay positive and keep everything in the present, and not get down after every at-bat,” Mattingly said. “He’s not going to get a hit every time up, and I think he needs to realize that.”
Hechavarria hit a career-best .281 last season but has struggled to get going at the plate this year.
“What he did last year I don’t think was a fluke,” Mattingly said.
▪ Saturday: Marlins LHP Wei-Yin Chen (3-2, 4.61 ERA) at Atlanta Braves (TBA), 4:10 p.m., Turner Field.
▪ Sunday: Marlins RHP Tom Koehler (2-5, 4.79) at Braves RHP Julio Teheran (1-4, 2.57), 5:05 p.m., Turner Field.