MIAMI — Hours before Thursday night’s opener against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Miami Marlins manager Mike Redmond tried analyzing his club’s second-half struggles on offense. Miami has scored the fifth-fewest runs in the National League since the All-Star break.
Center fielder Marcell Ozuna, who was given Tuesday off, had been mired in a slump near the bottom of the order. Redmond believed — perhaps out of desperate optimism — that it was only a matter of time before he found a way out of it.
With a pair of runners on in the 10th inning, Ozuna did as he knocked the walk-off RBI double in the Marlins’ 5-4 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The 23-year-old snapped a season-high skid of eight straight games without a run driven in with it.
"That’s exciting because a long time I didn’t get a hit just every time ground ball or strikeout," said Ozuna, who also collected a walk-off sac fly on May 7 against the New York Mets. "That’s exciting getting a line drive that situation, 3-2. I feel great."
After grounding into an inning-ending double play in the second, Ozuna collected his first hit in 17 at-bats with a single up the middle two frames later. He admitted getting that hit out of the way made him more comfortable and confident at the plate as the game progressed. Ozuna also walked in the eighth inning.
"It doesn’t matter how you get a hit," Redmond said. "As a player you know you’re 0 for 16. You know. You don’t need anybody to remind you. Sometimes you just need a ground ball or broken bat just for confidence. It comes down to confidence. This guy works hard every single day with (hitting coach) Frankie (Menechino) in the cage. Guys go through ruts. This guy’s still a young player. This is his first full season in the big leagues. I think that hit that got up the middle was huge for his confidence."
With a solid first half batting .276 with 15 homers and 53 RBI through 92 games, Ozuna had posted just one dinger, six RBI and a .170 average through 24 contests since the All-Star break.
Despite his struggles, Ozuna still trails just Pittsburgh Pirates’ Andrew McCutchen (17/67) and Milwaukee Brewers’ Carlos Gomez (18/59) in home runs and RBI among center fielders.
"This guy’s a huge part of our team and he’s had big at-bats and he’s gotten some big hits for us throughout the year," Redmond said. "Like I said it doesn’t really matter what you’ve done up to this point it’s what we do from here on out. To see him have a great at-bat and finish it off was huge for all of us."
During his rough patch, Ozuna could see the ball well but his timing was off — much like it was during spring training. Each swing led to another pulled ball to the left side of the infield.
In his decisive at-bat against righty Bradin Hagens, who was making his big-league debut, Ozuna seemed poised for a walk to load the bases after taking a curveball and two sliders out of the zone.
Then, Hagens threw a strike. Several of Ozuna’s teammates told him to wait on the next pitch — another cutter for a strike. When catcher Miguel Montero went to talk with Hagens, Ozuna asked for a pine tar stick for his bat.
"I said, ‘F— it,’ " Ozuna said. "’I’m going to think in the middle no matter what and put the ball in play.’ When I got the basehit I looked to the sky and said, ‘God, thank you.’"