PITTSBURGH -- Having largely downplayed the severity of a shoulder injury that has nagged at Marcell Ozuna all year, the Cardinals are seeing a growing number of clubs become more aggressive running on the left fielder.On Thursday, it backfired, as the Rockies ran into an out when Carlos Gonzalez tried
PITTSBURGH -- Having largely downplayed the severity of a shoulder injury that has nagged at Marcell Ozuna all year, the Cardinals are seeing a growing number of clubs become more aggressive running on the left fielder.
On Thursday, it backfired, as the Rockies ran into an out when Carlos Gonzalez tried to advance an extra base on a ball that dropped in front of Ozuna. The Pirates were more successful on Friday when Starling Marte challenged Ozuna by trying to stretch a single into a two-base hit. Marte slid in safely.
"Weak throw," Ozuna said of the play. "I should have gotten him."
Ozuna said that he has been dealing with tendinitis and inflammation in his right shoulder since last season, and president of baseball operations John Mozeliak acknowledged that the team was aware of some limitations when it traded for Ozuna in December.
Ozuna receives treatment on his shoulder daily, and he has tried to be intentional in picking spots to throw with maximum effort. He said he'll huddle with the club's athletic training staff to construct an offseason program that can help him regain strength. The Cardinals have not discussed the possibility of surgery.
"I think he's being judicious about the [throws] that he's using, and how he's using them. But they're in there," interim manager Mike Shildt said. "I actually feel like he's making some strides. Relative to where he was at the beginning of the year to where he is now, I feel like he's actually less limited."
The data may not be so forgiving. Based on Statcast™ tracking, Ozuna's arm strength has steadily declined over the past four seasons. In 2015, he averaged 92.1 mph on the top 10 percent of his throws. That number has dropped to 89 mph in '16, 81.5 mph in '17 and 77.9 mph this year. Ozuna's arm strength ranks last among the 58 outfielders with a minimum 75 throws this season.
His peak velocity has dropped each year, too, which indicates that even when Ozuna tries to throw at max effort, he can't get the zip he once did. This year, he topped out at 83.1 mph on a May 25 throw that prevented the Pirates from scoring a run.
"I think he is someone who knows when he needs to throw versus when he doesn't," Mozeliak said. "So as long as he has a conscious approach to that, I think he's OK. But certainly, when you're thinking long-term, you'd like to see that improve over time to where, from a consistency standpoint, you know it's always there."
"It's up and down, but we're going to be OK," Ozuna added. "Before, I threw well. Right now, it's bothering me."
As expected, the Cardinals activated Kolten Wong from the disabled list on Saturday and plugged him right back into the starting lineup in the seven hole. Shildt said the Cardinals do not expect the left knee injury that sidelined Wong to limit his ability to play multiple games in a row immediately.
Wong was hitting .309/.350/.491 in 17 games last month when the injury interrupted his offensive upswing.
"My whole thing this season was trying to stay healthy for the whole year," Wong said. "For this to happen was a bummer for me, but if I can come back and fight the rest of the season without going on the DL again, it's going to be a plus."
The Cardinals named outfielder Adolis Garcia and right-hander Daniel Poncedeleon their Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Month for July.
Poncedeleon threw 20 scoreless innings for Triple-A Memphis before being called up to the Majors, where he debuted with seven no-hit innings. Though he remains on the Major League roster for now, the Cardinals' 30th-ranked prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, leads the Pacific Coast League with a 2.15 ERA.
Garcia hit .354 with 10 homers, 25 RBIs, eight doubles and a 1.145 OPS in 25 games for Memphis. He is riding a 13-game hitting streak and became the seventh player in Redbirds history to have a three-homer game when he did so on July 26.
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.