Pittsburgh — Nick Castellanos was on the field at 1 p.m. Tuesday putting in an arduous early batting practice session. He easily took more than 100 swings, sharing his cage time with Brandon Dixon and JaCoby Jones.
“I know him and Lloyd (McClendon, hitting coach) had a long talk today,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “I hope he’s figured something out.”
Castellanos is having a rough month, hitting .226, with a .317 on-base average and slugging just .340 in June. He’s produced only four extra-base hits (three doubles and a home run) and he has the same number of double-play balls as RBIs — three.
“I’m not really changing anything,” Castellanos said of his hitting mechanics. “But I’m always touching and feeling.”
One of the things McClendon talked to Castellanos about, according to Gardenhire, was getting him in a more relaxed position in the batter’s box.
“His hands have been real high, right by his ear,” Gardenhire said. “Just trying to get him in a better hitting position from the start. I know that was something Lloyd talked to him about, just in casual conversation.
“But when you go out there (for batting practice), you try to figure out a better swing plane and get in a better situation with your hands. Then you try to take it in the game.”
Castellanos is still doing damage to fastballs. According to Statcast, he’s hitting .295 off heaters. Breaking balls (curveballs and sliders) are vexing him, though. He’s got a 39-percent chase rate on them and he swinging and missing at 41 percent of them.
It looked like, at least during his batting practice session, that he moved himself a little closer to the plate. And he was blasting balls from the left-center gap to the right-center gap. He hit several into the shrubbery in center field at PNC Park.
“I was watching him from behind the screen (behind second base) and the ball was flying,” Gardenhire said. “I will be able to tell right away if he’s adjusted anything, just by where he’s placing his hands.”
He put on a show during regular batting practice, too, sending rockets all over the field, including a few more beyond the center field wall.
Zimmermann is back
The Tigers won’t make it official until before the game, but barring anything unforeseen, veteran right-hander Jordan Zimmermann will be activated off the injured list and make his first start since April 25 on Wednesday.
“Just excited to be back out there,” Zimmermann said. “It’s been long enough.”
When he left his start after three innings in Boston back in April, he wasn’t sure if he’d ever pitch again for the Tigers. Because what he felt that night was eerily similar to the sensation he had back in 2009 when he needed Tommy John surgery.
And with his contract expiring after next season, that would have marked the end of his Tigers career. But after seeing several specialists, it was determined that it was a UCL strain, a muscle strain, no ligament damage, no surgical repair.
“Yeah, it could’ve been a lot worse,” Zimmermann said. “It’s a muscle and muscles heal. Everything went pretty smoothly.”
There were a few bumps in the last couple of weeks. He had a rehab start rained out after just two innings. Then, out of the blue, he had to miss a couple of days with a sore glut.
“I don’t know what happened with my glut,” he said. “I woke up one day and it felt like I got kicked by a horse.”
But, he’s worked through some mechanical glitches and got his pitch-count up to 70 — not quite ready to make a full start, but not necessarily an opener, either.
“It’ll just depend on how well he’s doing and how many balls they foul off,” Gardenhire said. “He feels good, that’s the bottom line. He felt like the ball is coming out really good, and he’s commanding it well enough to be able to pitch at this level.
“That’s all we’re looking for right now. Yes, we’re a little desperate, but we’re not forcing the issue. He says he’s ready.”
Batting order alternations
Gardenhire flopped JaCoby Jones and Niko Goodrum in the batting order again —Goodrum back to lead-off and Jones back to the bottom of the order – hitting eighth ahead of pitcher Daniel Norris.
Playing without a designated hitter for these two games in Pittsburgh played a part in the decision. He moved Christin Stewart to the clean-up spot behind Castellanos and Miguel Cabrera.
But Goodrum being close to full strength again after a knee bruise was also part of it.
“It’s not like we’ve been scoring five runs a game,” he said. “What we’ve had hasn’t been working too good. We’re just trying to mix it up, trying to find a combination that might work.”
Around the horn
Bittersweet return for Tigers shortstop Jordy Mercer. He shared hugs and high-fives with his former Pirates teammates before the game, but, out with a right quad strain, he was unable to play. "You want to come back and play in front of these fans," said Mercer, who spent seven seasons with the Pirates. "I spent so much time here. It's good to be back." The Pirates honored him with a video montage on the Jumbotron between innings.
...Daniel Norris struck out twice in his two at-bats, but he ran the count full both times and used up 16 pitches. "Those high fastballs were so enticing," Norris joked about Pirates starter Mitch Keller. "He's got a really good arm and he's throwing hard. I think he's got really good spin rate because, you know, I am an established Major League hitter and he got me out."
…The Tigers recalled outfielder Victor Reyes from Triple-A Toledo, and then, as expected, sent him back after the game to make room for Ziimmermann.
…Right-handed pitcher Franklin Perez, the Tigers No. 3 prospect, was activated off the injured list Tuesday and was expected to start at High-A Lakeland. Three off the Tigers top pitching prospects, Kyle Funkhouser, Beau Burrows and now Franklin, are back after lengthy stints on the IL.
Tigers at Pirates
First pitch: 7:05 p.m., Wednesday
TV/radio: FSD, 97.1
RHP Trevor Williams (2-1, 3.33), Pirates: He beat the Tigers at Comerica on April 17, allowing two runs over six innings. His four-seam fastball (92 mph) has limited hitters to a .193 batting average and he’s got a 27.7 strikeout rate with it. His slider, though, has been hittable (.364 with a .606 slugging percentage).
Jordan Zimmermann (0-4, 5.93), Tigers: Hard to remember, but he allowed one run in his first two starts this season, before his elbow started barking and he ended up on the injured list. This will be just his seventh start and his first since April 25.