'When is the season going to start?' Tigers Willi Castro says he's ready now
Lakeland, Fla. — Remember those two throwing errors by shortstop Willi Castro last week?
Yeah, we don’t either.
Castro has a way of quickly erasing negatives. He did it with his bat and glove Tuesday — a plus-5 swing on just two plays — in the Tigers’ 6-5 spring win over the Yankees at Joker Marchant Stadium.
“I feel really good right now,” Castro said. “I been saying to the guys, when is the season going to start? I just want to play.”
It’s easy to forget, too, that Castro only has 250 plate appearances in the major leagues. His plate aptitude belies the lack of experience. He came to bat in the fourth inning with two runners on. He had just watched Robbie Grossman work a six-pitch walk and Jeimer Candelario a six-pitch single off former Tigers farmhand Luis Cessa.
He took note that Cessa threw five breaking balls to those two batters.
“I was waiting for that pitch,” he said.
He got it on the first pitch — an 86-mph spinner that Statcast read as a change-up and that Castro saw as meat. Hitting left-handed, he stayed back and drove the ball (exit velocity, 104 mph) to the opposite field, over the left field fence for his third home run of the spring.
“I was looking at the other hitters before me, seeing what pitches he was going to throw in what counts,” Castro said. “I was prepared for that pitch.”
He also knew that in his first at-bat, also hitting left-handed, he rolled over a pitch and hit into a 4-6-3 double-play.
“I was focused on hitting the next one oppo,” he said.
That is the kind attention to detail manager AJ Hinch has been preaching since before the start of camp.
“Those are great details,” he said of Castro’s approach. “We want guys paying attention. The game will tell you a lot if you watch it. And as they continue to develop in the big leagues, they’re learning the benefit of that.”
In the fifth inning, Castro saved two runs with a spectacular twirling defensive gem. The Yankees had already scored twice against Daniel Norris — one on a monster home run onto the Corona Cabana beyond the left field berm by Gary Sanchez — and had runners at second and third.
Gleyber Torres hit a shot up the middle.
“They were telling me it was going to go through,” Castro said.
Nope. Castro flagged it down on the outfield grass behind second base. He made a 360-degree pivot and fired a strike to first to end the inning.
“Chest-high throw,” Hinch said. “Don’t forget to mention that.”
The game also showcased some of the hustle and aggression Hinch has been preaching. Earlier in the game, Rule 5 rookie Akil Baddoo turned a 100-foot single into a double with some alert base running.
Then the Tigers flipped the game with a three-run bottom of the eighth that featured a two-strike, opposite field, RBI double to left-center by Riley Greene that scored speedy Eric Haase from first; an RBI single and a stolen base by Derek Hill, who then scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch.
“One of the things I told the team this morning is, I’m really proud of how they’re playing,” said Hinch, whose team is 6-2 in the Grapefruit League. “They’re playing the game and that’s really all they can control. It’s probably a breath of fresh air for those guys to show some of their athleticism.
“We’re playing hard. As coaches in spring training we harp a lot on a lot of things, making corrections. Sometimes you’ve got to give due when guys are playing the right way. That’s coaching, too.”
Bull by the horns
After a strong three-inning outing against a lineup stacked with Yankees regulars, Tigers starter Spencer Turnbull sat next to Hinch in the dugout. The only blemish on his day was a wind-aided, two-run home run by Jay Bruce in the second inning.
“I asked him what bothered him most, the home run or the walk to Torres before it,” Hinch said. “He’s starting to learn the answers I want because he hated that walk as much as I did.”
Torres led off the second inning. Turnbull had him in a 2-2 count and was in a good position to put him away. But back-to-back sinkers just missed the edge. One batter later, Turnbull tried to sneak an 0-1 change-up by Bruce.
On a calm day, it might’ve been a fly out to center. But the ball got caught up in a stiff crosswind and it sliced and carried out over the left field wall.
“I don’t know how he hit it out,” Turnbull said. “Big-league hitter. Not that it was a terrible pitch. I’d just beat him with a fastball up, but he’s a good fastball hitter so you figured he’d make the adjustment. I thought the change-up was a good call. Maybe if I get it down. But (catcher Wilson) Ramos said it moved well. It’s not like it was a flat change.”
Again, that was the only blemish. He threw all five pitches, even one curveball that dispatched D.J. LeMahieu to start the game. He got four swings-and-misses with a four-seam fastball that ranged in velocity between 94-96 mph.
More significantly, he threw strikes, eight first-pitch strikes to 11 batters.
“First-pitch strikes is a point of emphasis for sure,” Turnbull said. “Just getting in plus counts, staying ahead. That’s something I’m trying to get better at. I’ve struggled with that before, getting in deep counts and throwing a lot of pitches.
“That’s just learning to trust myself more and stay aggressive.”
How much do the Tigers trust Jake Rogers’ throwing arm behind the plate?
In the top of the seventh inning, the Yankees had runners at first and third with two outs. Speedy former Indian Greg Allen was at first. The Yankees put on the first-and-third play where they start both runners, though the runner on third delays until he sees the catcher throw through.
Rarely does that happen. But Rogers threw a seed to second base to get Allen. Inning over.
“That was a great reaction play,” Hinch said. “We were throwing through there. I know they started the runner at third, but you can’t get too many of those kinds of reps. Even if they scored, we need our catchers to finish the play.
“That was a huge throw, perfect on the bag.”
Hinch said he wouldn’t hesitate to have the catchers throw through like that in-season, either.
Around the horn
Non-roster lefty Ian Krol continues to impress. He retired four straight hitters, three on strikeouts, to finish the game. Three of the four hitters were lefties and with his curveball biting like it was, it was a mismatch. He’s pitched 3.1 scoreless, hitless innings with six strikeouts.
…The Tigers used the spring re-entry rule for the first time Tuesday. Norris struggled, throwing 28 pitches in the fifth inning and had to be bailed out by Drew Carlton. But his target pitch count was 50, so Hinch sent him back out to pitch a scoreless sixth. “It’s important for us to keep building pitch counts without risking injury,” Hinch said. “That was a perfect example of why we have that rule in the spring.”