Tigers stress importance of positives to Willi Castro as he tries to shake funk

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
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Detroit — More than anything with his fundamentals or positioning at the plate, the Tigers just want Willi Castro to keep his head up.

But there's no film you can watch to work on that.

"I see him as a guy who's pressed a little bit," Tigers manager AJ Hinch said Sunday morning, ahead of the series finale with the Chicago Cubs at Comerica Park. As a young player, we don't want him to start questioning what he's doing.

"The key is to try to draw something positive out of every day that he's playing."

That was pretty easy to do Saturday, in the Tigers' 9-8, 10-inning win.

The Tigers' Willi Castro bumped his average above .200 with a pair of hits Saturday.

Mind you, Castro wasn't the starring Castro — that was Harold, with the winning hit — but Willi did get two hits in a game for the first time in nearly a month, raising his average over .200 for the first time since the end of April.

Last season, Castro finished the shortened schedule with a .349/.381/.550 slash line, good for fourth place in the American League rookie-of-the-year voting.

To put it in elementary terms: Baseball was easy last year, and it's hard this year.

But he's still only 24, and he's dealing with a position change. He played mostly shortstop last year, and is playing mostly second this year. That's not to be overlooked.

"He's getting a lot of extra work defensively," said Hinch, "and I do think it's taking a toll on his hitting a little bit."

On the plus side for the Tigers, the move to second is paying off. Castro was a below-average shortstop in 2020, and is a way-above-average second baseman in 2021. He made a highlight-reel diving catch on a liner in the ninth inning of Sunday's 5-1 loss to the Cubs, and almost made an amazing catch on a bloop to center field earlier. He's one of the rare current Tigers' position players you can actually envision being on the club when it's contending again.

But for most positions — unless you're a pitcher not named Shohei Ohtani, or a stud defensive catcher — the expectation is to be a two-way player, at the very least serviceable at each.

And that's what the Tigers will continue to expect from Castro, who, by the way, currently stands as one of general manager Al Avila's best moves since taking over the front office in 2015. He came from Cleveland in July 2018, for journeyman outfielder Leonys Martin. That was actually the second time the Tigers tried to acquire him, but the Indians weren't interested in some guy named J.D. Martinez in July 2017.

"Young players will carry negative things longer with them; veteran players can shed it a little bit faster, they've got a little more experience to draw from," Hinch said. "You've got some growing pains along the way that we're gonna have to deal with.

"He's always been a worker. ... I think he'll come out of it."

Castro was able to draw that positive from his first at-bat Sunday, when he singled up the middle. But that was followed by a negative, getting picked off first by Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks — after Hendricks, on an earlier pickoff attempt, had caught him leaning.

Around the horn

►Catcher Eric Haase (Dearborn Divine Child) made one of the best defensive plays of the year Saturday when he raced from behind the plate to just foul of third base to make a diving catch on a popup when the infield was shifted to the right.

"Pretty impressive," Hinch said. "It's an athletic move."

Hinch said most catchers couldn't make that play, but Haase's versatility helps him. That versatility as well as a decent bat — he had a double Sunday — also will earn Haase a start in left field for Monday's series opener in Seattle.

►Tigers third baseman Jeimer Candelario, who left Saturday's game with a knee injury, didn't start Sunday, but was available to pinch-hit. Also on the injury front, Saturday's starter Jose Urena (ankle) is fine, and should make his next start.

►The Tigers are off to Seattle, where the fishing's good and where the Tigers flounder. Detroit is 1-14 in its last 15 games in Seattle. The teams didn't play in 2020.

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Tigers at Mariners

Series: Three games, Monday-Wednesday, T-Mobile Park, Seattle

First pitch: All three games at 10:10 p.m.

TV/radio: All three games on BSD/97.1 FM

Probables: Monday — RHP Casey Mize (2-3, 4.19) vs. LHP Yusei Kikuchi (1-2, 4.30); Tuesday — RHP Spencer Turnbull (2-2, 3.91) vs. RHP Justin Dunn (1-1, 3.72); Wednesday — LHP Tarik Skubal (0-6, 5.73) vs. Logan Gilbert (0-1, 9.00)

SCOUTING REPORT

Mize, Tigers: The last three starts have been encouraging for the 2018 No. 1 overall pick, though walks remain an issue. He's walked 16, matching his total from his entire junior season at Auburn (in nearly 80 more innings).

Kikuchi, Mariners: The ERA and record don't tell the story with the lefty from Japan, who is off to the best of his three seasons in the major leagues. He continues to be a strikeout-an-inning pitcher.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984

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