WSH@MIA: Ozuna clears loaded bases with a triple

MIAMI -- Marcell Ozuna's three-run triple against the Nationals on Friday night was just the latest big hit for the rookie outfielder. As the first half winds down, Ozuna continues to produce in the heart of the Marlins' order.

Brought in to soften the blow of losing Giancarlo Stanton to injury in late April, Ozuna did more than simply hold down the fort during the slugger's absence.

He is tied with Justin Ruggiano for the team lead with 32 RBIs, despite logging fewer plate appearances. Ozuna has also delivered in the clutch on numerous occasions, hitting .352 (25-for-71) with runners in scoring position.

"He's gotten some huge hits for us," Marlins manager Mike Redmond said. "He's driven in some big runs. He came up hitting fourth and he's stayed fourth or fifth, really, the whole time. He's probably still been one of our most productive guys."

Ozuna has endured his share of struggles, but the good has outweighed the bad in a first half that has turned him into a National League Rookie of the Year candidate.

Perhaps what Miami likes best about Ozuna is that, despite his early success, the 22-year-old has not grown complacent.

"I feel great now because I've made it a pretty good half," Ozuna said. "Now, I work for the second half. I'm going to start over again, make it a good second half and finish strong."

Although he has developed into one of the Marlins' top run producers since making his MLB debut on April 30, Ozuna's strong first half did not appear to be in the cards. He did not do much during Spring Training.

Playing for a club with top prospects like Christian Yelich, Jose Fernandez and Jake Marisnick often relegated the talented Ozuna to the background. Limited action did not help, as he had only 11 at-bats in Grapefruit League play.

But Ozuna did the same thing he has done all season with his Spring Training plate appearances. He took advantage of his opportunities, batting .364 (4-for-11) with a .462 on-base percentage in February and March.

When Spring Training ended and the season began, Ozuna continued to rake for Class A Jupiter and Double-A Jacksonville. In 62 plate appearances in the Minors, Ozuna batted .316 (18-for-57) with five home runs and 16 RBIs.

When Stanton suffered a right hamstring strain on April 29, Ozuna came up from Jacksonville the next day and shined. He batted .331 (47-for-142) with one home run, 17 RBIs and 18 runs scored in 152 plate appearances during Stanton's absence.

Ozuna's torrid stretch to begin his MLB career included a 16-game hitting streak, which is the second-longest hitting streak ever compiled by a Marlins rookie.

"His energy definitely helped us out," left fielder Juan Pierre said. "What he brought definitely gave us a boost and gave us a little presence in the middle of the lineup when [Stanton] went out."

While Ozuna wields a potent bat, offense is far from the only talent he has brought to the team. The rookie's arm and range make him a force to be reckoned with in the outfield.

He has committed only two errors in 154 combined chances between right and center field, and his eight outfield assists are tied for the fourth-highest mark in the Majors.

When Stanton returned from the disabled list on June 10, the Marlins had no reservations about moving Ozuna to center. In fact, Ozuna began taking fly balls in center field only a few days before Stanton's return.

One month later, the Marlins are pleased with how Ozuna is adjusting to his new position. Redmond praised the young outfielder, but admitted that Ozuna is still getting used to Marlins Park's spacious center field.

"I think sometimes ... he forgets how much room is back there," Redmond said. "His reads are good, but he'll take off and he'll realize how big or how deep he's already playing, and then he'll go back and he'll still have all this room. He's done a great job out there, and it's still fun to watch him."

Even after a strong first half, Ozuna still has aspects of his game that require work. Most notably, Redmond wants the 22-year-old to work counts and show more patience at the plate.

For Ozuna, continuing his growth and adding to his game will require the same attitude that has made him one of the best rookies in the Majors so far.

"The key is to work a lot and [work] hard," Ozuna said. "I'm getting better every day. I've got to learn a little bit from each [person] and make it a good half."

Marlins looking forward to All-Star break

WSH@MIA: Redmond on Fernandez's perseverance in win

MIAMI -- The Marlins certainly have heated up in the six weeks leading into the All-Star break, but the youthful club clearly could use a breather.

For many players, the first half has been a mental and physical grind.

The season started off miserably, with the club going 14-41 in April and May. Since then, it is 21-16 heading into Sunday's series finale against the Nationals at Marlins Park.

Injuries and inexperience tested the resolve of the squad during the first two months. But since Giancarlo Stanton and Logan Morrison returned from the disabled list in June, the offense has dramatically improved. The pitching staff also got a boost when Jacob Turner was promoted from Triple-A New Orleans, and Nathan Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez came off the disabled list.

"The All-Star break is always good for guys," manager Mike Redmond said. "We've been grinding out there pretty well. I think it's always a time to reflect, regroup, take a deep breath and figure out what we all have to do to make this team successful."

Miami doesn't have a power-packed lineup, which magnifies the importance of Stanton, who blasted the game-tying home run in the ninth inning on Saturday. The Marlins went on to win, 2-1, in 10 innings.

Morrison, recovered from right knee surgery, missed the first two months.

The team will have a workout at Marlins Park on Thursday, and will open the second half on Friday at Milwaukee. But for the next three days, players are free to relax.

"It really just comes down to finishing strong, and sticking with our approach, the way we have the last month and a half," Redmond said.

Without playoff expectations, the Marlins will seek to continually improve in the second half around core players they anticipate having in 2014 and beyond.

"I'm excited," Redmond said. "These guys are playing hard. They're running balls out. It's fun to see them have some success, because they deserve it."

Hechavarria making strides at the plate

WSH@MIA: Hechavarria smacks a run-scoring double

MIAMI -- His defense is emerging as Gold Glove worthy. The question regarding Adeiny Hechavarria is whether he will be able to hit consistently.

The Marlins' rookie shortstop is showing signs that he can.

Hechavarria may have had his career-high 11-game hitting streak come to an end on Saturday night, but he has made tremendous strides at the plate.

During his streak, which ran from July 1-12, the 24-year-old batted .442 (19-for-43). His batting average, which floundered around or just under .200 for so long, is now at .237 heading into play on Sunday.

"He's hitting not just fastballs," manager Mike Redmond said. "He's hitting breaking balls, and you can just see when a guy steps to the plate with some confidence, what a difference it makes."

Hechavarria has also shown the ability to hit the ball to the opposite field, which will be critical in his development at the plate. When the Marlins acquired Hechavarria as part of their trade with the Blue Jays last November, the organization recognized the need for patience.

They are maintaining that Hechavarria's development as a hitter should not be measured in a season or two. They feel his production will pick up the more he plays -- and his best offensive years will start emerging two or three years from now.

For now, they are measuring his progress, looking for him to keep refining his swing, approach and pitch recognition.

"He's been able to go up there and really, in any situation, have a good at-bat -- whether it's a walk or a hit," Redmond said.

Marlins set rotation coming out of the break

WSH@MIA: Fernandez stymies the Nats over six frames

MIAMI -- Miami has set its rotation for the second half.

Jacob Turner will get the ball first coming out of the All-Star break on Friday at Milwaukee. Rounding out the series will be Nathan Eovaldi on Saturday and Henderson Alvarez next Sunday.

Alvarez gave up two runs in 6 2/3 innings on Sunday at Marlins Park in a no-decision against the Nationals.

After the All-Star break, the Marlins will begin a seven-game road trip. From Milwaukee, they will head to Colorado to face the Rockies in four-games at Coors Field.

Tom Koehler, called up from Triple-A on Saturday, will rejoin the rotation. He will start at Colorado on July 22. Jose Fernandez will pitch for the first time after the break on July 23, the second game with the Rockies.

The Marlins decided to push Fernandez to the back of the rotation to give him extra rest. The 20-year-old is Miami's representative at the All-Star Game, and the organization hopes he gets a chance to play.

Marlins option Below to Triple-A New Orleans

MIAMI -- Shortly after the Marlins lost, 5-2, to the Nationals on Sunday afternoon in 10 innings, the team made a roster move.

Left-handed reliever Duane Below was optioned to Triple-A New Orleans. The corresponding move will be made before Miami opens the second half on Friday at Milwaukee. At that time, right-hander Chad Qualls will be reinstated from the paternity list.

Qualls was excused from the team on Saturday and Sunday to be with his wife, who is having a baby.

Below was brought up only for the short term.

The southpaw didn't see action in either game. He did make two appearances for the Marlins in May. Below has spent most of the season at New Orleans, where he has made 15 starts and is 6-5 with a 2.31 ERA.