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Cardinals host Pirates

Cardinals Marcell Ozuna hits a two-run double in the first inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Busch Stadium on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018. Photo by Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com

The Cardinals put Marcell Ozuna on the disabled list on Aug. 22 and it's a move that keeps paying dividends as they dive into the thick of the playoff race.

Back then, Ozuna's shoulder hurt but tests showed no structural damage, and the trouble was most evident when he tried to make a throw from left field. He had nothing. They gave him an anti-inflammatory shot and put him on the disabled list. And when he came back, he was as good as new.

Ozuna had a two-run double in the first inning on Tuesday night to set the table for what turned out to be an 11-5 win over the Pirates at Busch Stadium after both teams started scoring runs by the bushelful in the closing innings. Ozuna added a sacrifice fly in the eighth to give him three runs batted in, the third time this season he's had three or more RBIs in a game and a team-leading 20th time he's had more than one RBI in a game. His 79 RBIs are tied with Jose Martinez for the team lead. He has a seven-game hitting streak that began in his third game back from the DL.

This is what the Cardinals hoped for and this is what the Cardinals got.

“I feel better, I feel better, God bless,” Ozuna said after the game. “I'm going to do my best. I'm getting feeling, getting (better) on my approach, and then this success.”

Ozuna was hitting well before going on the disabled list, but now he looks stronger. In the 15 games before going on the DL, he hit .344 with three home runs. In his current streak, he's hitting .433 with a .966 slugging percentage and a 1.499 OPS. His power has come back. He's hit five home runs in seven games, after hitting 16 in his first 125.

“I'm getting more contact, and working every day in the cage,” he said. “I'm not chasing as much as I was before, but the reason was my arm wasn't in the right spot. Right now, my arm is better, and then I can do my best swing.”

“He's probably feeling more comfortable with getting better pitches to hit, more comfortable in general with his role, his environment, not feeling he has to be the guy,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said. “And I think he obviously feels a little more consistently better with his health. I think that's a part of it.”

Shildt deferred questions about the effect of Ozuna's shoulder on his swing to the hitter, but said, “I would say that he was a little more compromised than maybe we realized.”

Ozuna couldn't describe the pain, but he could describe its effect on him.

“Last year I was having the same problem but it didn't bother me like this year,” he said. “Last year I wasn't ready to (fight it) every time and wasn't in the right spot to swing at the pitch.”

Another thing is different right now for Ozuna: He's playing games that matter in September. In his five seasons with Miami, the team never finished above .500. The Marlins finished second in the NL East in 2017, but they were 20 games back of Washington. As of Tuesday night, the Cardinals had a three-game lead for the second wild-card spot.

“For me, that's impressive,” Ozuna said. “I've never been in that spot before. One year, we almost made it, but we didn't have the pitching staff they have right now in this team.

“Every at-bat, I go trying to push my team on top. That's being in the dugout, being hyper. I like it.”

Right now, he's happy with how things are going, in the short and long term.

“It's going good,” he said. “I'm working every day in the training room. That's for me, I think I'm going to be good for next year.”

Tom Timmermann • 314-340-8190

@tomtimm on Twitter

ttimmermann@post-dispatch.com

 
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