May 28, 2014 at 1:00 am

Rookie Nick Castellanos' newfound patience pays off for Tigers

Oakland, Calif. — Lost in the brazen way Rajai Davis stole third on a toss back to the pitcher from the catcher to set up the winning run Tuesday was something else that happened in the eighth inning.

As a pinch hitter, Nick Castellanos walked. But it was while Castellanos was batting, and letting events evolve by showing some patience at the plate, that Davis as a pinch runner was able to take second on a passed ball before stealing third.

Had Castellanos put the ball in play early or made a routine out, Austin Jackson’s grounder to short would have been the third out of the inning instead of the fielder’s choice that allowed Davis to score the tiebreaker that held up as the winning run.

The walk, though, was noteworthy because it marked the fourth consecutive game in which Castellanos had walked, after four walks in his first 38 games.

But within the span of his last 13 plate appearances, it was his sixth walk.

What gives?

Castellanos has made an adjustment.

“I was swinging early and often,” he said about the first two months of the season — or nearly two months.

“The league made an adjustment with me after I had some early success. I started getting a lot of pitches out of the strike zone early because I was swinging.

“But the point is to make them come to you,” he said. “I’m being more relaxed up there, not jumping at early pitches.”

To have four walks after his first 151 didn’t seem right to Castellanos, who never considered himself as a non-walker.

And while it’s true that in the minors, hitters like to get their hacks, which could explain some of his earlier stats — such as 14 walks in 341 plate appearances at Double A Erie in 2012 — the ratio seemed more normal when he walked 54 times in 595 plate appearances at Triple A Toledo last season.

It’s difficult to make conclusions about a young hitter’s sense of patience at the plate, however, while he’s still in the minors.

And, of course, a young hitter wants to swing the bat when he suddenly finds himself in a major league lineup every day.

But smart hitters don’t take long to adjust, and Castellanos, it appears, already is adjusting to the pitches he’s being thrown.

“I’ve always had my fair share of walks,” he said. “But I’m very aggressive around the plate.”

The secret is how to effectively mix the two, which Castellanos seems to be doing.

Just missed

So instead of being angry that his double high off the wall in center had just missed being a two-run home run Tuesday night, catcher Alex Avila was smiling at second base.

Was it something being yelled out to him from the Tigers dugout that was making him laugh?

No, it was the exchange Avila was having with A’s third baseman Josh Donaldson.

“When Donaldson came up after I had tried to bunt my way on, he asked me, ‘Why were you bunting? I would have thrown you out,’ ” Avila said. “So when I looked over after my double, he was laughing because I had tried to bunt in my previous at-bat.”

Avila isn’t hesitant to square around if he thinks a team is giving him room to get one down. He’s shown bunt three times already this season, “the most I’ve ever done it,” he said.

But sometimes it works, too, when he swings away.

Around the horn

By the way, Avila believes the shift other teams are putting on for him has cost him “5-6 hits” already.

If it’s five hits, it means the difference between the .274 he would be hitting and the .230 he is.

If shifts have cost him six hits, he would be hitting .283.

“Five or six hits make a big difference early in the year,” Avila said.

tom.gage@detroitnews.com
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Patience at the plate is paying off for Nick Castellanos. / Ann Heisenfelt / Associated Press