Cleveland – Back in spring training, when manager Ron Gardenhire was toying with the construction of his lineup, he called Nick Castellanos into his office. He knew Castellanos had success hitting in the No. 2 hole, in front of Miguel Cabrera, last season.
He also knew it wasn’t likely he’d be able to hit him there this year.
“The question was, should I bat him in front of Miggy or behind Miggy,” Gardenhire said, recalling the conversation. “I told him I thought he needed to start out hitting behind Cabrera. I said, ‘If you’re not back there, Cabrera’s not going to get pitched to – that’s the bottom line.’
“And Nicky said, ‘If Miggy’s not behind me, I’m not getting any pitches to hit.’”
Gardenhire laughed when he told the story, because it was a quintessential Castellanos moment.
“That’s the kind of conversations I have with him,” Gardenhire said. “They are happy-go-lightly conversations, but he thinks about all that stuff. His thought process is good. And you know what, he hasn’t complained about anything.”
In case you’ve not looked in on these Tigers in a while, Castellanos has put together another stellar offensive season. He’s become the eighth player in Tigers history to produce at least 40 doubles and 20 home runs in the same season.
That puts him company with Miguel Cabrera, Hank Greenberg, Rudy York, Lance Parrish, Magglio Ordonez, Bobby Higginson and Dale Alexander.
“I’m just trying to get more consistent and get better at everything I do,” Castellanos said in a brief interview last week. “I want to continue to learn how to play right field and just continue to have good at-bats and keep growing as a consistent baseball player.”
He’s had one bad stretch – he hit .218 in July. Since then, he’s gone along at a .309 clip.
His .295 average (13th in the American League), .844 OPS (14th), 24.2 offensive WAR (10th), 128 runs created (14th), .359 weighted on-base percentage (15th) and 128 OPS-plus are all career highs.
He has 50 multi-hit games and 17 games of three hits or more – both third most in the American League.
The statistics alone are laudable. But given that Cabrera has been out and Castellanos has hit in a lineup without protection all season – his production has been exceptional.
“He’s a swinger,” Gardenhire said. “Even if they are pitching around him, he’s still going to reach out and get the barrel on the ball. He’s always been like that. I don’t think he worries about too many things. He’s worked really hard in the outfield and he’s having a really good year, especially with the circumstances of our lineup.”
While maintaining his usual high hard-hit rate (47.9 percent, 28.5 percent line drives), he’s swung at 38.2 percent of pitches outside the strike zone and still made contact on 52 percent of those.
“If we had more people around him, he’d have better pitches to hit,” Gardenhire said.
Castellanos doesn’t much enjoy talking about his own production, especially when the team is 28 games under .500 and just playing out the string.
“It’s always difficult when your record isn’t where you want it to be,” he said. “You are x-amount of games out of it. This is the time of the year where it’s easy to fall into a lull. I combat that by making sure I still get here early, still work hard, still putting in my work and not just showing up to show up.
“You show up with a purpose.”
He was asked if it’s difficult to feel positive about personal achievements in a season like this.
“There’s positives, but I am not one to dwell on positives and then let up,” he said. “From where I started to now, I am better. I am going to continue to get better the more comfortable I get, especially going into the off-season and learning what I need to work on and what I am struggling with.”
He’s not chasing statistical goals. Talk to him about getting to .300 or 100 RBIs and he’ll get that look on his face, like there’s a bad smell in the room.
“Those are all traps to fall into, man,” he said. “Just continue working hard. Continue playing the game the right way and just try to be the best me I can possibly be.”
It’s been a working formula, to be sure.