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Throws, hard hits evidence of Ozuna's health

Martinez goes two innings in Minor League rehab outing
@LangoschMLB
May 15, 2019

ATLANTA -- It wasn’t exactly the expected answer from Marcell Ozuna on Tuesday night, not after he had just blasted a three-run homer and, two days earlier, recorded his first assist by throwing out a runner at home. But the answer was a telling one. Asked if he was, for

ATLANTA -- It wasn’t exactly the expected answer from Marcell Ozuna on Tuesday night, not after he had just blasted a three-run homer and, two days earlier, recorded his first assist by throwing out a runner at home. But the answer was a telling one.

Asked if he was, for the first time in years, feeling completely healthy again, Ozuna quickly shook his head no.

“I’m not where I want to be,” Ozuna noted. “I’m just working hard every day to get the strength in my shoulder [back] and then get better. Every day, I’m getting better, maybe [by] a half a percent.”

Whatever percentage he applies to himself, it’s markedly higher than the arbitrary number assigned a year ago.

Ozuna’s home run on Tuesday was his 12th of the season. It came 246 at-bats quicker than in 2018, when Ozuna hit No. 12 on July 29. He leads the Majors in home runs with runners on base (eight) and is the first Cardinals player since Albert Pujols (2009) to drive in 37 runs in the team’s first 42 games.

A healthier shoulder has made an impact on Ozuna’s ability to stay through the ball with his swing and generate some of the hardest contact in the league. His barrel percentage (17.9), average exit velocity (92.6 mph), hard-hit percentage (51.4) and xSLG (.594) all rank in the league’s top 7 percent.

His improving health is also showing on the defensive end -- not only in the throws he is making but also in those he isn’t having to make because teams don’t feel so comfortable running freely on him. Though Statcast wasn’t able to track the velocity of Ozuna’s assist over the weekend, the eye test on that release and others would suggest an uptick from 2018, when he posted an average velocity of 78 mph. That ranked last among the 109 qualifying outfielders.

“I think we saw early on people not respecting necessarily what that looked like and were being a little more aggressive,” manager Mike Shildt said. “Now, word gets around this league pretty quick. He threw out the guy at the plate. He’s holding guys to singles. He’s made some really accurate, stronger throws, and people have to respect that again.”

Martinez nearing return
Shildt wasn’t ready to make any guarantees, but all indications are that the Cardinals will activate right-hander Carlos Martínez over the weekend as long as he recovers well from his appearance Wednesday with Double-A Springfield.

“Positive outing,” Shildt said of Martinez’s fifth rehab outing. “A little bit of everything.”

That’s no exaggeration. Though he completed two innings on 20 pitches (14 strikes), Martinez packed a lot in as he works his way back from shoulder soreness. He allowed four singles and one run, hit a batter and induced a pair of double plays.

The Cardinals will reevaluate Martinez next and have him rest for two days before they make a decision about whether he’s ready to return to the roster on Saturday.

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.