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Ozuna assures Cards he'll be 'ready' for spring training; Mozeliak to visit him

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St. Louis Cardinals' Marcell Ozuna is congratulated by teammates after scoring during the eighth inning of a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves, Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Todd Kirkland)

As part of a planned visit to the Dominican Republic to mark a milestone for the organization’s future, Cardinals executive John Mozeliak intends to make a side trip next week to check in on an essential part of the team’s present.

Outfielder Marcell Ozuna, who had surgery on his right shoulder earlier this offseason to address pain that limited him all of last season, has assured the team he will “be ready” for spring training. He has elected to house his rehab work in the Dominican instead of Jupiter, Fla., and that has left the team to check in remotely on Ozuna’s progress toward a throwing program. Mozeliak added that he couldn’t confirm whether Ozuna had started hitting.

“I think he’ll be ready to go in spring. I’m not overly concerned,” said Mozeliak, president of baseball operations, who is headed to the Dominican to attend the first graduation at the team’s new academy. “He’s going to spend the remainder of his offseason in the Dominican Republic, which is not ideal in terms of our medical staff being able to get a firm grasp of where he’s at. … Hopefully, I can get a sense of where he is. Candidly, with three weeks remaining before we go (to spring training), there’s not a lot you can do. He has promised me he will be ready, so I guess I’ll have to take him at his word.”

As the Cardinals near the report date for spring, Ozuna and reliever Luke Gregerson stand out as medical uncertainties. Reliever Brett Cecil has slimmed down, Mozeliak said, and will have no limitations entering spring. Gregerson’s offseason “has not been perfect.” The veteran righthander was limited by shoulder and knee troubles in 2018, and arm issues have persisted during his throwing this winter. Mozeliak said Gregerson is “trying to put the pieces back together a little bit.”

The Cardinals began the offseason by reaching out to all players on the 40-man roster with information about their performance and suggested improvements or workouts they could incorporate in the winter. Mozeliak said the team wanted to share “accountability” with the player — and not go months between one season’s end and spring’s start without conversation. Of chief interest to the team was assuring that injured players, like Ozuna, stick with a rehab and strengthening program that wouldn’t limit them in February.

Ozuna reported to spring training a year ago unable to throw at full strength because of an impingement in his shoulder, and what started as a limited throwing program leaked into the season, when he struggled to throw hard. Ozuna said his arm would go numb for stretches.

The soreness also sapped him of power.

Asked if the Cardinals could handle Ozuna repeating last year’s production and sore-shoulder issues, Mozeliak said: “I think it would be good enough for this current team. If he’s better, even better.

“Last year he was injured quite a bit and wouldn’t even opt out of the lineup, so he’s going to show up and he’s going to be a positive contributor,” Mozeliak said. “The question would be how much, but I don’t know if being in Jupiter vs. being in the Dominican would’ve changed the outcome of that.”

Photos from 2018 spring training