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Ozuna stays red-hot at plate with 2-run HR

MLB.com @JoeTrezz

ST. LOUIS -- With every triumphant raise of his neon arm sleeve, Marcell Ozuna looks more and more like the slugger the Cardinals targeted this winter. Now, more than two weeks into his hottest stretch of the season, Ozuna says he still has more to show.

"I'm feeling right now like I'm at like 80 percent with my approach in the box and how I play the game," Ozuna said after Saturday's 6-3 loss to the Cubs. "Still trying to get better every day."

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ST. LOUIS -- With every triumphant raise of his neon arm sleeve, Marcell Ozuna looks more and more like the slugger the Cardinals targeted this winter. Now, more than two weeks into his hottest stretch of the season, Ozuna says he still has more to show.

"I'm feeling right now like I'm at like 80 percent with my approach in the box and how I play the game," Ozuna said after Saturday's 6-3 loss to the Cubs. "Still trying to get better every day."

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More and more, those efforts are translating to results on the field. Saturday's game provided the latest example, as Ozuna continued his white-hot June by homering for the second straight game and the fifth time in nine contests. He drove a 2-1 sinker from Chicago starter Kyle Hendricks an estimated 416 feet over the wall in right-center to open the scoring in the first inning, extending his hit streak to nine games in the process.

The cleanup hitter has now driven in at least one run in each of his last seven games, the longest active streak in the Majors and third longest in the National League this season. He is hitting .429/.472/.898 in June after hitting .260/.306/.337 over the season's first two months.

His seven home runs this month lead all NL hitters.

"That's the kind of hitter we know he can be," manager Mike Matheny said earlier this week. "He's dangerous, and that's what we expected from the beginning and what we know he's going to be through this season."

The difference, Ozuna says, is his plate discipline. And the numbers back it up. Though his walk rate hasn't increased, his strikeout-to-walk rate has, markedly. He's being more selective both in the zone (74.1 percent swing rate, up from 69.6 percent in May) and overall (20.4 percent chase rate in June, compared with 24.1 percent in May and 32.6 percent in April), which has led to more consistently productive contact.

Although Ozuna's hard-hit rate remains relatively unchanged, his barrel rate has spiked from 6.8 percent in May to 17.8 percent this month. This, after a two-month stretch in which he routinely hammered the ball into the ground, particularly to his pull side. He ranked among the NL leaders in infield hits for a significant stretch, space typically reserved for speedy top-of-the-order types, not sluggers.

"I know everybody was concerned for a while," Matheny said. "Whatever he found is what he needs to keep, because it's fun to watch when he gets going."

The season's halfway point now in their sights, the Cardinals continue to search for consistency from a lineup constructed to be explosive. Ozuna's disjointed start sat at the epicenter of that scrutiny, after an All-Star season in which he hit .324 with 37 home runs and 124 for the Marlins. But he can no longer be considered a culprit.

"It's going be better when we're winning," Ozuna said. "If we are winning and you help the team, it's good. If you're not winning and you're hitting good, what is the reason for it?"

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.

St. Louis Cardinals, Marcell Ozuna