Ozuna leads Cardinals into series vs. his former team (Jun 04, 2018)

June 4, 2018

Just in time for a visit from his former team, Marcell Ozuna and his bat appear to be heating up.

The St. Louis Cardinals left fielder and cleanup man takes his swings against Miami Marlins pitching on Tuesday night in the opener of a three-game series fresh off his first back-to-back games with homers.

After spending most of the season's first two months fanning or hitting weak grounders, Ozuna pounded a solo shot Saturday against Pittsburgh that left the bat at 109.8 mph, then lined a grand slam in Sunday's 5-0 victory over the Pirates that was traveling at 111.3 mph.

The homers gave him five for the season to go along with 28 RBIs and a .272 average. While those numbers pale drastically in comparison to last year's 37 bombs, 124 RBIs and a .312 average, Ozuna does collect his numbers in streaks.

"They're going to come in bunches," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said. "He has that kind of power. Those balls were not hit very high. Smashed."

The worm has turned during the past two weeks. On May 23, Ozuna overslept and was benched for a 10-inning loss to Kansas City. That earned him the moniker of "Ozzzzuna" from a couple of media members. It might have been seen as funny if he were producing at last year's levels, but with his ground-ball rate resembling that of a sinkerballer, the observation wasn't tinged with humor.

Now, Ozuna is resembling the guy who quietly had a great season last year in the shadow of Giancarlo Stanton's 59 homers. The crowds are certainly beginning to favor him, giving Ozuna his first Cardinals' curtain call after his slam on Sunday.

"To get that response from the crowd is nice for a guy who wants so badly to get them on their feet," Matheny said.

What's more, St. Louis (32-25) returns its Opening Day battery from the 10-day disabled list for the series opener. Right-hander Carlos Martinez (3-2, 1.62) and perennial All-Star catcher Yadier Molina will be activated.

Martinez will make his first start in exactly four weeks since suffering a right lat strain in a May 8 loss to Minnesota. He pitched four innings in a rehab start Thursday night at Double-A Springfield, allowing five hits and two runs with four strikeouts. Both runs came off solo homers.

It will be Martinez's fifth career start against Miami. He is 2-1 with a 5.04 ERA in previous outings. He'll get to throw to Molina, who will play his first game in a month since taking a foul tip to the groin on May 5 and landing on the 10-day disabled list.

Jose Urena (0-7, 4.41) gets the call for the Marlins (20-39), who are 1-6 on a 10-game road trip. Urena could have won his last outing Wednesday night in San Diego, where he left after six innings with a 2-1 lead before closer Brad Ziegler blew the lead in the ninth and lost 3-2.

"That is the game," Urena said to mlb.com when asked if he felt snakebitten. "Everyone is going out there doing the best they can."

Urena is 1-1 with an 8.16 ERA in three career starts against the Cardinals, yielding 13 runs in 14 1/3 innings.

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