Detroit — Nick Castellanos played in his 151st game Sunday. That’s 13 more than Jeimer Candelario, who is second on the Tigers’ games played list.
His 648 plate appearances entering Sunday are 60 more than any other Tigers player.
And yet, he looks as fresh as he did when the Tigers broke camp in March.
“It’s just figuring out how my body works,” Castellanos shrugged when the topic was brought up before the game. “It’s just really making a conscious effort every day to not let myself deteriorate. It’s just being more disciplined.”
Castellanos is 26 and putting the wraps on his fifth full season in the major leagues. And by putting the wraps on it, we mean he’s finishing with a flourish. He is hitting .405 in 20 games this month, the most among American League hitters who have played at least 15 games.
He has rapped nine doubles, a triple, three home runs and is slugging .676 — third in the American League this month. His OPS of 1.146 is fifth best in the American League.
“That tells you why I don’t take him out,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He’s our one really solid hitter in the lineup who’s been consistent all year long. And he told me at the beginning that he hates off-days. He wants to play every day. His days off have been DH days.
“He comes to play. He’s learned a lot in right field and he’s hot right now. I don’t know where we would be without that guy. He’s carried us a lot of different times.”
Consistency has been elusive for Castellanos, until this season. He’s essentially had one bad month — hitting .218 in July. Since April 21, his average never has dipped below .283. That was on Aug. 11. Since then, he’s raked — .366/.438/.606 with a 1.04 OPS.
He ranks in the top 15 in the American League in all the slash-line categories: batting average (.303, eighth), on-base percentage (.360, 15th), slugging (.507, 12th) and OPS (.866, 11th). All of those are career-best. His 45 doubles are second most in the American League.
He has posted 55 multiple-hit games and 19 games of three hits or more, which is tied for the most in the American League.
“It’s just experience, more at-bats,” Gardenhire said. “We’re always talking about the number of at-bats it takes in this league to get a feel for who you are and what you can do. He’s in what, his fifth year? It doesn’t seem like it, he’s still so young. But he’s getting to that number of at-bats where he’s got it figured out.”
Castellanos took, 2,952 plate appearances into the Comerica Park finale Sunday.
“He’s seen enough pitches and enough pitchers now,” Gardenhire said. “That’s when you start figuring out if a guy can or he can’t. Nicky is there. We know he can.”
Something to play for
The Tigers finish the season with three games in Milwaukee and the Brewers are very much still in playoff-chase mode. Entering Sunday, their magic number to clinch a playoff spot was five. The number to clinch home field in the wild-card game was six. And, they were just 2.5 games behind the Cubs in the division race.
So, the Tigers could mess them up a bit.
“We will definitely try to put forth a team that’s going to give them hell,” Gardenhire said. “That’s just respecting the game. I don’t plan on laying down if we’re in that situation.
“Our players will want to be a part of that, too. It’ll be good experience for them.”
The Tigers played a large chunk of the season without a left-handed reliever in the bullpen. It looks like they will have more workable options for 2019.
The Tigers got three scoreless innings from lefties Blaine Hardy (one inning, no hits) and Matt Hall (one hit, two strikeouts). Along with Daniel Stumpf, who hasn't allowed a run in 13 outings since being recalled from Toledo, the cupboard could be well-stocked.
"We will see how they all fit," Gardenhire said. "You've got to have arms, and especially left-handed arms. Whether we use one of them as a starter remains to be seen. But we do have some pretty good options there."
Lefty Daniel Norris, who the Tigers hope will secure a spot in the rotation next season, could also matriculate to the bullpen if circumstances warranted.
Around the horn
The Tigers held center fielder JaCoby Jones out of the lineup Sunday. He aggravated his right shoulder with a dive and hard landing on a ball hit by Whit Merrifield in the first inning. Jones ran the ball down on the warning track in right-center but he didn’t complete the process. The ball came loose when he banged the ground.
... Don't call him Moonlight Graham just yet. Like the character in Field of Dreams, Tigers' rookie Harold Castro made his big-league debut Sunday, but there will be any statistical record of it. He pinch-ran for Grayson Greiner in the ninth inning and didn't score.