June 15, 2017

MIAMI (AP) Marlins left fielder Marcell Ozuna is hitting like an All-Star again, and this year he hopes to keep it going.

Ozuna tailed off badly in the second half last season after making the All-Star team for the first time. He's off to another torrid start, ranking among the NL leaders with a .333 average, 17 homers, 47 RBIs, 83 hits and a .983 OPS.

Over the past 18 games, Ozuna has hit .408 with six homers to help the Marlins go 12-6 and revive their season after a dismal start.

''He has been unreal,'' teammate Christian Yelich said. ''He's definitely one of the best players in baseball right now. Everything he hits seems to be hit extremely hard. That's definitely part of why we have been more successful.''

The Marlins have seen this before. Ozuna batted .307 with 17 homers before the All-Star break last year, and then hit just .209 with six homers in the second half.

But manager Don Mattingly said the 26-year-old Dominican is better now than at this time a year ago - more disciplined and consistent in his approach, making him less prone to long slumps.

''I think it's another step forward,'' Mattingly said. ''There are just less giveaway at-bats, where he gets a couple of hits and gets happy and just starts swinging. I see more and more the quality at-bats. That's how you pile up numbers.''

Ozuna's conditioning may have been a factor in his second-half slump in 2016, and he has repeatedly attributed his start this season to a rigorous winter training regimen.

''When you work hard in the offseason, it makes you feel better,'' he said.

The right-handed slugger is also hitting the ball to all fields, which is when he tends to enjoy the most success. On Wednesday against Oakland, he homered into the Marlins Park home-run sculpture in center field. On Tuesday, he homered off the second-deck facade in right.

''I'm just trying to hit it hard and see where it goes,'' he said. ''After you smash it you can see.''

Ozuna's not the only Miami hitter piling up numbers. Giancarlo Stanton (17 homers) and Justin Bour (16) are also on pace for 40-homer seasons, which is especially impressive considering Marlins Park is notoriously pitcher-friendly.

Ozuna doesn't mind the spacious dimensions. He's batting .389 at home with a 1.187 OPS.

''It's important to have your family watching,'' he said. ''All of the fans love me, and I try to give them my best.''

Ozuna would relish a chance to do that when the All-Star game is played in Miami for the first time on July 11. Ozuna ranked sixth among NL outfielders in the latest fan voting, the best showing by any Marlin.

He's lobbying for votes with every swing.

''I have to fight for that spot and earn it,'' he said.

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