This season, Marcell Ozuna is being looked at by the St. Louis Cardinals to be the big impact bat in the middle of the lineup. Last year with Miami, he provided the protection for Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich. What does Ozuna need for his own protection or success in the lineup?

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“I don’t need anything, I just need to play hard and stay healthy,” he said. “If my guy in front of me does something, I have to protect him on the bases. They may let me do something. If I can’t do it, the guy behind me. It’s kind of like steps. First step, second step, third step, fourth step–if one of us falls, you can make it better in the next step.”

Was that the key to setting career highs in home runs (37), runs batted in (124), and batting average (.312)?

“I just had fun and enjoyed the game,” said Ozuna. “After you lose your best friend, Jose Fernandez, it’s hard. The only thing I put in my mind was I’m not going to think, I’m going to do my job, bring him on my heart, and just have fun. Enjoy everything that he did before.”

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Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez died in a boating accident in September of 2016. He was 24 years old.

The loss did not serve as extra motivation, but more of a reminder. Especially as Ozuna kept his locker next to the one vacated by Hernandez. And just as in past years, he continued to have conversations with his friend.

“I talked to the sky–‘Brother, you’re up there looking at me, help me as much as you can’,” shared Ozuna. “For me, that’s the part that I love. I write his name all the time on the line.”

It’s not unlike the relationship of Carlos Martinez and the late Oscar Taveras. Already friends, dealing with similar tragedy has strengthened the bond between the two new teammates.

“Yeah, you put it inside and nobody knows,” continued Ozuna. “Never, ever going to forget. I do something or drive somewhere that I was with him and I remember. “Damn, my brother. Where you at right now? Something like that.”

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