Toronto — However it is destined to play out, the official relocation of Nick Castellanos began Friday night at Rogers Centre.
Castellanos was to start in right field in the Tigers’ weekend series opener against the Blue Jays.
It was to be the first start in right for a hitter whose defense, in the Tigers’ view, no longer made him an acceptable option at third base.
“I want him to be comfortable out there,” Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said as the Tigers dressed for a sortie against Jays starting pitcher Marcus Stroman.
But would he be at ease, with his nerves and with a position, when Castellanos had not played outfield in a game since 2013?
The Tigers essentially had answered no, in that Ausmus by design decided against starting Castellanos in a game at Comerica Park, all because the spotlight and crowd-focus could be unsettling.
In a road game between two teams long out of the playoff chase, Friday night made sense. To a manager, anyway.
“Nick approached me during the last homestand and said he felt as if he was close,” Ausmus said. “He just needs experience.
“There are going to be mistakes. No two ways about it. But better now than to wait for spring training. This is the best scenario.”
Castellanos had seemed even a year ago to be a long-term answer at third. But his defense tumbled in 2017. His range and footwork appeared to diminish. And, most alarmingly, there were too many times when his throws lacked the zip essential in making put-outs at first base that simply must be made at the big-league level.
Ausmus says the outfield move should work for all parties.
“He’s got a different mindset now,” said Ausmus, who has had steady conversations with Castellanos. “He’s now come to the realization that to be a good player he’s got to be a complete player.”
It’s a revealing statement. It suggests — and Ausmus doesn’t dispute such notions — that Castellanos was developed as a hitter who focused heavily, perhaps too heavily, on his bat.
But his displacement at third carried a message. Castellanos has gotten it. And the Tigers love the way in which he’s chomped onto his new job.
“He also wants to be good at it,” Ausmus said of an outfield move that, the manager repeated, was not likely to be flawless, especially in the early going.
Anibal Sanchez was to be checked out Saturday ahead of a possible go-ahead for Sunday’s start against the Blue Jays.
Sanchez departed five pitches into his last start when he was slammed on the leg by a line drive.
Michael Fulmer, meanwhile, is scheduled to have a conversation Monday with orthopedic surgeon James Anderson. Fulmer has an ulnar nerve that has, at times, slid from its natural moorings and could require surgery.
Ausmus said Friday he appreciates one dividend from September’s call-ups as minor-league players get auditions in big-league games.
It beats completely sizing up talent during spring camp.
“I just don’t think you can evaluate in spring training,” Ausmus said. “I’ve been fooled too many times.
“You’ve got older guys getting their work. Pitchers only go a few innings or so many pitches.
“It’s not baseball. It’s practice baseball.”