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Nick Castellanos working to bust out of slump

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

New York — If you close your eyes and play back the tape, you would swear you were listening to an old Brandon Inge interview.

"When you don't have the results, everyone wants to know why you aren't getting the results. It's just baseball. I don't know how many balls I've hit hard the last couple of series that just haven't fallen. If just a few of those had fallen, we wouldn't be having this discussion. But because they've been caught and my numbers aren't there, everyone wants to know what's going on. And really, the only thing that's going on is nothing is falling."

That wasn't Inge. This was the Tigers' current third baseman, Nick Castellanos, who is trying to battle his way out of a prolonged, Inge-like hitting slump. He is 9-for-47 this month (.191). By just about every statistical measurement you can find, traditional or otherwise, Castellanos taken several steps backward from a promising rookie season.

But, those aren't the measurements Castellanos and hitting coach Wally Joyner are using right now. Nothing can be gained from emphasizing the negative. What they are looking at is how often the barrel of the bat makes solid contact with the ball.

"That's all you are trying to do, put the barrel on the ball," Castellanos said. "Fans and you guys (media), you love results because at the end of the day this is a results-driven game. But as a player, you can't focus as much on results because you can fail to hit a ball hard and get a hit, and you can smash it and be out.

"As a player, you have to be happy with smashing the ball."

Castellanos, working diligently on his swing mechanics for several weeks, has started to hit the ball more solidly of late. But the overall numbers show a decline — both in results and in percentage of hard-hit balls.

According to research by FanGraphs.com, his line drive percentage has dropped from 28.5 percent of balls put in play last year to 20.7 percent this year. He is hitting more lazy fly balls and roll-over grounders to third than he did last year.

His park adjusted batting average (.221), on-base percentage (.268), slugging percentage (.333), OPS (.601) and strikeout-to-walks percentage (3.88) are well below league average.

His Adjusted Batting Runs, a computation by Baseball Reference that attempts to measure a player's contribution to the team's run total, is minus-11.

"The hardest part is to not allow the failure to affect your next at-bat," manager Brad Ausmus said. "It can weigh on you. If in your first at-bat you pop out, the hardest thing is to not let it bring you down for your second at-bat, or bring you down on defense in between."

Ausmus monitored Castellanos' early batting practice session Friday, and it was impressive. Castellanos was bashing the ball to all fields.

"He looked good, but you don't know if it translates to the game," Ausmus said. "But he definitely looked good."

Castellanos has never scuffled for this long a stretch in his baseball playing life.

"Probably not," he said, "but this is also the hardest level I have played at in my life. It's the big leagues for a reason."

He has been deluged with hitting advice, not just from Joyner. He's hearing it from everywhere, including his father, who was his first hitting coach. Castellanos, though, doesn't buy the paralysis-by-analysis theory.

"You think about all that stuff in batting practice, but once you get in the game, you're just focused on getting a pitch you can handle," he said.

He said his mindset boils down to: see ball, hit ball.

"I'm going to get hot again and we're going to have this conversation where you say, 'Man, you are crushing the ball. What's going through your mind in the batter's box?'" he said.

"And to be honest, it's probably the same thing that's going through my mind right now.""

Ausmus is encouraged by what he's seen in recent at-bats. So is Castellanos.

"I know I can hit," he said. "I believe I can hit. And I am pretty sure everybody in this organization believes I can hit. It's just a matter of getting the at-bats, keeping the right attitude and hitting the ball."

Chris McCosky on Twitter @cmccosky