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Ozuna continues to make an impact for Marlins

Ozuna continues to make an impact for Marlins

Ozuna continues to make an impact for Marlins

MIAMI -- Marcell Ozuna's three-run triple against the Nationals on Friday night was just the latest big hit for the rookie outfielder. As the first half winds down, Ozuna continues to produce in the heart of the Marlins' order.

Brought in to soften the blow of losing Giancarlo Stanton to injury in late April, Ozuna did more than simply hold down the fort during the slugger's absence.

He is tied with Justin Ruggiano for the team lead with 32 RBIs, despite logging fewer plate appearances. Ozuna has also delivered in the clutch on numerous occasions, hitting .352 (25-for-71) with runners in scoring position.

"He's gotten some huge hits for us," Marlins manager Mike Redmond said. "He's driven in some big runs. He came up hitting fourth and he's stayed fourth or fifth, really, the whole time. He's probably still been one of our most productive guys."

Ozuna has endured his share of struggles, but the good has outweighed the bad in a first half that has turned him into a National League Rookie of the Year candidate.

Perhaps what Miami likes best about Ozuna is that, despite his early success, the 22-year-old has not grown complacent.

"I feel great now because I've made it a pretty good half," Ozuna said. "Now, I work for the second half. I'm going to start over again, make it a good second half and finish strong."

Although he has developed into one of the Marlins' top run producers since making his MLB debut on April 30, Ozuna's strong first half did not appear to be in the cards. He did not do much during Spring Training.

Playing for a club with top prospects like Christian Yelich, Jose Fernandez and Jake Marisnick often relegated the talented Ozuna to the background. Limited action did not help, as he had only 11 at-bats in Grapefruit League play.

But Ozuna did the same thing he has done all season with his Spring Training plate appearances. He took advantage of his opportunities, batting .364 (4-for-11) with a .462 on-base percentage in February and March.

When Spring Training ended and the season began, Ozuna continued to rake for Class A Jupiter and Double-A Jacksonville. In 62 plate appearances in the Minors, Ozuna batted .316 (18-for-57) with five home runs and 16 RBIs.

When Stanton suffered a right hamstring strain on April 29, Ozuna came up from Jacksonville the next day and shined. He batted .331 (47-for-142) with one home run, 17 RBIs and 18 runs scored in 152 plate appearances during Stanton's absence.

Ozuna's torrid stretch to begin his MLB career included a 16-game hitting streak, which is the second-longest hitting streak ever compiled by a Marlins rookie.

"His energy definitely helped us out," left fielder Juan Pierre said. "What he brought definitely gave us a boost and gave us a little presence in the middle of the lineup when [Stanton] went out."

While Ozuna wields a potent bat, offense is far from the only talent he has brought to the team. The rookie's arm and range make him a force to be reckoned with in the outfield.

He has committed only two errors in 154 combined chances between right and center field, and his eight outfield assists are tied for the fourth-highest mark in the Majors.

When Stanton returned from the disabled list on June 10, the Marlins had no reservations about moving Ozuna to center. In fact, Ozuna began taking fly balls in center field only a few days before Stanton's return.

One month later, the Marlins are pleased with how Ozuna is adjusting to his new position. Redmond praised the young outfielder, but admitted that Ozuna is still getting used to Marlins Park's spacious center field.

"I think sometimes ... he forgets how much room is back there," Redmond said. "His reads are good, but he'll take off and he'll realize how big or how deep he's already playing, and then he'll go back and he'll still have all this room. He's done a great job out there, and it's still fun to watch him."

Even after a strong first half, Ozuna still has aspects of his game that require work. Most notably, Redmond wants the 22-year-old to work counts and show more patience at the plate.

For Ozuna, continuing his growth and adding to his game will require the same attitude that has made him one of the best rookies in the Majors so far.

"The key is to work a lot and [work] hard," Ozuna said. "I'm getting better every day. I've got to learn a little bit from each [person] and make it a good half."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter Less

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