JUPITER, Fla. -- Even though Cardinals manager Mike Matheny told him his day was through, Marcell Ozuna pleaded. You only get to make your team debut once, even if it is just Grapefruit League play. And Ozuna's first day in red and white -- against his old club -- hadn't
JUPITER, Fla. -- Even though Cardinals manager Mike Matheny told him his day was through, Marcell Ozuna pleaded. You only get to make your team debut once, even if it is just Grapefruit League play. And Ozuna's first day in red and white -- against his old club -- hadn't satisfied the slugger after two-at bats.
"He wanted that at-bat," Matheny said. "I was shutting him down after two."
In the grand scope of the season, the Cardinals hope what happened next is relegated to a footnote. They hope the moments they remember Ozuna for will be grander. But driving in a run on Day 1 isn't a bad start.
After a groundout and a strikeout, Ozuna notched an RBI in his final plate appearance, lofting the first pitch into left for a sacrifice fly. It extended the Cardinals' lead to 3-0 in a Spring Training opener they'd lose, 6-4, to the Marlins on Friday at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium.
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What's more, it gave Ozuna a positive on which to end his first day. And it gave the Cardinals a glimpse into the type of run producer they hope he'll continue to be.
"I'm glad he [spoke up]," Matheny said. "It was a great at-bat."
One of Matheny's main focuses early on this spring has been ensuring Ozuna's transition -- from the clubhouse on the north side of the spring complex to the clubhouse on its south -- goes as smoothly as possible. He plans to ease Ozuna into Grapefruit League action, perhaps with an eye toward how heavily he could lean on him come summer.
Ozuna will not travel to Port St. Lucie for Saturday's game (12:10 p.m. CT, MLB.TV) against the Mets (few veterans will), and he won't start in left until sometime next week. That he served as the Cardinals' designated hitter on Friday was intentional, part of Matheny's slow-at-first approach. Ozuna played, but he did not take the field. Soon he will, and every day.
By then, Ozuna could be the Cardinals' most important player, an impact bat from the right side the franchise hasn't seen in years. There were few flaws in his 2017 All-Star season, when he hit .312/.376/.548, clocked 37 home runs and won a Gold Glove Award. His arm in left field can change games. His bat often does. And where it once had a habit of cooling down as summer stretched, Ozuna's swing kept sizzling last year through September.
The Cardinals hope Friday was just the start, and just a small part of what's to come.
"He was excited. He was playing against his former team. There were people down there yelling for him," Matheny said. "That made him want to get back in there. But he also wanted to make an impact for his team."