With Niko Goodrum down, Tigers put Willi Castro on the hot seat in playoff chase

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Minneapolis — A byproduct of adversity is opportunity.

Adversity: The Tigers are going to be without shortstop Niko Goodrum for at least another seven days. They put him on the injured list Saturday, retroactive to Sept. 2, with a right oblique strain.

Opportunity: Willi Castro is going to get a second extended audition to prove he can be an everyday shortstop. 

Willi Castro

“Our combo up the middle (Goodrum and Jonathan Schoop) has been really, really good,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “That’s definitely a tough loss, losing your shortstop who was playing so well defensively. But a lot of people, myself included, we all believe Willi is going to be a big-league shortstop.

“We think he has a lot of talent. He can hit and he’s worked really hard to make himself better. He’s going to get a little sample-size of playing some games. He’s going to be the shortstop.”

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The switch-hitting Castro, who struggled as the everyday shortstop last September, has been on a tear offensively. Over the last nine games he’s hitting .394 with a .606 slugging percentage and a 1.0 OPS. The defensive part, though, has been a little shaky. He’s a minus-2 defensive runs saves and he’s made two throwing errors in just 12 chances.

“The only issue I am seeing right now is he’s a little erratic with his throws, and that’s because he’s dropping his elbow,” Gardenhire said. “And also, the speed of the game.”

Gardenhire played shortstop in the big leagues and he’s been through what Castro is dealing with right now, adjusting to the same game played by faster, stronger players.

“What happens is, in the minor leagues, a lot of times you catch the ball, look at the runner and throw,” Gardenhire said. “Well, up here it’s not a good thing to look at the runner. Because these guys are some animals and they really get down the line.

“It makes you panic a little bit. He’s been told this and he’s already getting better. Get the ball and throw it. Don’t make it bang-bang every time.”

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Case in point: In Milwaukee Wednesday, Castro fielded a routine ground ball hit by Avisail Garcia. Thinking he had a lot of time, Castro looked up to see Garcia speeding down the line and rushed his throw.

“The big Garcia kid, it may look like he can’t run, but he can fly,” Gardenhire said. “If you start staring at him, you are going to panic.”

The loss of Goodrum will especially hurt the Tigers’ infield communication on shifts. We saw it already on Friday night when Castro ran in front of Schoop on a ground ball to the right side, creating a screen that made the play doubly difficult.

Gardenhire said the Goodrum-Schoop team was the best defensive combo he’s coached in his time in Detroit — mentioning that Jose Iglesias was a gifted shortstop but it was a battle to get him to adhere to the shifts.

“What you are dealing with now is you have to play (the shifts) with other guys and try to have that same communication,” Gardenhire said. “They were trying to do that in Toledo, but they don’t really have enough people. So he’s getting this education right in the middle of Major League Baseball games.

“He will adapt to it better as he plays more.”

The Tigers held Goodrum out of the doubleheader on Friday, hoping the pain in his right side would abate. It did not.

“We did soft-toss with him in the cage today,” Gardenhire said. “Right-handed, he didn’t feel anything. But he was getting a bite left-handed. Talking with Doug (Teter, head athletic trainer), these things don’t just go away. We’re going to take a little time here, the next seven days and see how it’s going to do.

“The only other option once we get through this is whether he can just bat right-handed the rest of the season.”

Goodrum hits for a higher average from the right side (.320-.209), but all his power comes from the left side (29 home runs, 47 doubles left-handed; 4-14 right-handed).

“First we need time to let this to calm down,” Gardenhire said.

With Harold Castro still on the injured list (hamstring), Sergio Alcantara was activated off the taxi squad and will take Castro’s utility role.


Twitter: @cmccosky