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Tigers' Willi Castro inserts himself into Rookie of the Year chatter

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News

Detroit — Willi Castro isn’t going to win Rookie of the Year honors in the American League. Seattle’s Kyle Lewis and Chicago’s Luis Robert have turned it into a two-man race.

But he has hit his way into the conversation.

“He’s proving that he can hit at this level,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He’s been doing it for a while now, so it’s not a fluke thing. He’s been looking more and more comfortable.”

Willi Castro

Entering play Thursday, the switch-hitting Castro was slashing .347/.376/.537. He leads American League rookies with a minimum of 95 at-bats in average and slugging percentage and he is second in on-base percentage.

“I feel real good right now,” Castro said. “I am never going to stop saying this — it’s been my routine that’s kept me going. Doing the early work in the cage, working with the hitting coaches, that’s what’s keeping me going.

“And just keep swinging at good pitches.”

More: Niko Goodrum rolls with Tigers decision to move him to second base

Castro spent the quarantine in Tampa, working out with his brother-in-law, Mets shortstop Amed Rosario, and Indians first baseman Carlos Santana.

“Carlos Santana told me a lot of stuff and he made me a better hitter,” Castro said. “The routine he showed me helped me out a lot.”

Santana showed him drills using a short bat, which helps train hitters to stay back and balanced through the swing. Castro is still doing those drills before every game.

“The big thing for me is to swing at good pitches,” he said. “Sometimes I get too excited and I swing at bad pitches.”

His chase rate is 38%, and yet, he is hitting well over .300 against fastballs, breaking balls and off-speed pitches. Left-handed, he’s hitting .400 against fastball, sliders and curveballs. Right-handed, he is hitting .325 against fastballs, .350 against sliders and curves, and .412 against off-speed pitches.

With a batting average on balls in play of .453, it’s unlikely Castro will sustain his lofty batting average. Still, he’s on pace to post the best batting average by a Tigers rookie since 1928 when John Stone his .354.

“This is what this organization is hoping for,” Gardenhire said. “People stepping up and taking the jobs that are out there.”

Harold Castro returns

Time was is running out for utility man Harold Castro. He’d been on the injured list since Aug. 19 with hamstring issues in both legs.

“Slow process,” Gardenhire said before the game. “He’s been running bases. One day he runs 100 percent. Another day he runs 65 percent and says he just doesn’t feel good. We will have to see in the next couple of days — either he joins us or he doesn’t.”

Turns out, they didn't have to wait that long. The Tigers announced after the game Thursday that Castro would be re-instated Friday. Travis Demeritte was sent back to Toledo.

“We don’t have a lot of left-handed hitters,” Gardenhire said. “Look at my bench tonight, only a switch-hitter (Sergio) Alcantara. A left-handed hitter like Harold would really help in a big situation in a game if we could get him up here.

“We just don’t have that balance with the righty-lefty stuff.”

No rest for Reyes

Center fielder Victor Reyes went into the game Thursday in a 1-for-19 skid, his average tumbling from .305 to .285 in five games.

This late in the season, though, with JaCoby Jones (broken hand) out for the season, Gardenhire doesn’t have the luxury of sitting him out for a game to clear his head.

“I’ve been almost forced to play him every day,” Gardenhire said. “He’s been one of our better hitters. He’s struggling a bit right now, but it’s not like he’s totally missing up there. He’s hit some balls hard. I think he’s probably a little worn down right now and there’s not a whole heckuva lot I can do about it.

“He’s got to play. He’s going to have to suck it up and get through it. He’s young enough, he should be able to do that.”

Around the horn

...Jordan Zimmerman made just the second relief appearance of his career Thursday. The Indians nicked him for three runs in the seventh, two shift-busting singles and a two-run single up the middle by Franmil Reyes. They got two more in the eighth on a two-out double by Hernandez -- a slicing liner that Bonifacio tracked but couldn’t catch -- and a seeing-eye single by Ramirez on a ball he literally threw his bat at.

..Gardenhire said he would prefer to use lefty Daniel Norris in piggyback, long relief roles, but he won’t hesitate to use him for short-inning situations like he did Wednesday when he pitched a scoreless ninth.

“We’re still trying to figure out what his best role is,” Gardenhire said. “He’s all-out, he’s full bore every time — he’s like a raging bull. And he’s got good stuff. But there’s been some inconsistency that we’ve had to deal with, and that’s part of it.”

...Jeimer Candelario went into play Thursday ranked in the top 10 in the American League in seven offensive categories: batting average (.333, third), OPS (.958, seventh), adjusted OPS-plus (156, seventh), hits (54, eighth), runs created (35, eighth), adjusted batting runs (12, 10th) and adjusted batting wins (1.2, 10th).

Indians at Tigers

First pitch: 7:10 p.m. Friday, Comerica Park, Detroit

TV/radio: FSD/97.1

SCOUTING REPORT:

RHP Zach Plesac (3-2, 2.20), Indians: Best to be attacking his 93-mph heater because his slider-changeup combo is nasty. Opponents are hitting under .100 off both pitches, with a swing-and-miss rate of 43% against the slider and 35% against the changeup.

RHP Michael Fulmer (0-2, 9.27), Tigers: Here’s the best and most important stat for Fulmer, at least as far as the organization is concerned — this will be his ninth limited-innings start of the year. That he’s been able to take the ball every five days after a two-year absence is the silver lining through all his struggles. His velocity (93 mph on the fastball) and movement on his slider have been encouraging. Regaining command and consistency is the next hurdle.  

chris.mccosky@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @cmccosky