'I can't give up': Beleaguered Willi Castro sparks Tigers win with glove and bat

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
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Detroit — For a minute there Saturday, Tigers right-hander Spencer Turnbull looked vulnerable. He was spraying pitches, missing spots, seemingly searching his rhythm and release point.

"I was nowhere close to the strike zone," Turnbull said. "It's hard. It's like a mental battle because you're so frustrated with yourself. You aren't getting beat by them, you're beating yourself. 

"And at the same time, you don't really know what to do. You are trying to find it."

That inner turmoil lasted for roughly five hitters. Then he went back to being mostly unhittable.

Turnbull allowed a run and three singles through 5.2 innings and the Tigers beat the Yankees for the second day in a row, 6-1, at Comerica Park.

Joe Jimenez #77 of the Detroit Tigers celebrates a 6-1 win over the New York Yankees with Eric Haase #13 at Comerica Park on May 29, 2021 in Detroit, Michigan.

"I think he was just fighting his body mechanics," manager AJ Hinch said. "It looked like he just lost his feel for what he was doing. Then he corrected himself."

Turnbull came into the game with a career-low walk rate of 5.4% and breezed through the first inning on 13 pitches. But things quickly got out of whack in the second. He walked three Yankee hitters around a single by Gary Sanchez.

A couple of years ago, Turnbull might not have regained his equilibrium after such an inning. But this is a much more mature and assured pitcher. He limited the damage in the second to a run, inducing a 6-4-3 double-play from Miguel Andujar and then proceeded to dispatch 10 straight hitters through the fifth.

"After (pitching coach Chris) Fetter came out, he kind of slowed things down for me and we got a better plan for how to attack Andujar," Turnbull said. "Getting that double-play ball was huge. There was a high chance of that inning spiraling out of control.

"I'm proud of myself for battling through that. It's another testament to the growth over the last couple of years."

Significantly, the double-play was turned at second base by Willi Castro. It was the start of a significant day for the struggling second baseman.

"Willi is a good player," Hinch said. "I know things are weighing on him and maybe a game like this will send him home happy and he'll be back in there tomorrow."

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Castro, who has lost his spot in the everyday lineup and came in hitting just .182 in May with 23 strikeouts, also contributed a pair of hits and an RBI.

"My confidence has been up," Castro said. "I know what kind of player I am. I can't give up. There's a lot of games left. Just keep battling."

With two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the second inning, he hit a hard ground ball up the middle. Yankees second baseman Rougned Odor made a superb play to get to the ball behind second base and appeared to have a force-out opportunity at second.

Instead he threw to first, errantly, allowing two runs to score, giving the Tigers a 2-1 lead.

Then in the top of the third, Castro stole a hit from LeMahieu.

"Huge play," said Turnbull, who wasn't keen on going right back to the stretch after the long second inning. "Fantastic play."

Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Spencer Turnbull throws during the first inning.

Leading off the inning, LeMahieu hit a shot up the middle. It had an exit velocity of 108 mph off the bat, but Castro took two quick steps to his right, dove and snared the ground ball.

Box score: Tigers 6, Yankees 1

From the seat of his pants, Castro threw LeMahieu out at first.

"We've got to get away from the thought that Willi can't play defense," Hinch said. "That's not fair to him. He's made some errors and he's made a lot of adjustments. There's a lot of talk about his throwing. But Willi can play at this level and he can handle the position."

Castro started a three-run uprising in the fifth inning with a leadoff double off Yankees starter Deivi Garcia. He scored on a double by Jeimer Candelario, who extended his on-base streak to a big-league active best 25 games.

After Miguel Cabrera’s sacrifice fly brought Candelario home, Jonathan Schoop lofted a solo home run into the Tigers’ bullpen in left.

"Days like this for Willi, when he can go home feeling good about himself, maybe this can be a springboard for him to play with a little more consistency," Hinch said. 

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Castro is certainly rooting for that.

"I've been sitting down (benched)," he said. "I've been an everyday player. But at the end of the day, I know I've struggled and I know the guys who are playing are doing good and we want to win.

"But I know I'm going to get my opportunity. Just keep fighting and hopefully I can get back to playing every day."

Turnbull gave up a couple of singles in the sixth and gave way, with two outs, to Jose Cisnero. Pitching in his third game in four days, Cisnero struck out Gary Sanchez to end the sixth inning.

And the bullpen, with Hinch wanting to stay away from late-inning arms Bryan Garcia, Michael Fulmer and Gregory Soto, locked it down. After allowing only an unearned run in five innings Friday, and posting the third lowest ERA in baseball since May 16, Tigers relievers covered the final 3.1 innings Saturday.

After Cisnero, Daniel Norris worked a scoreless seventh with two strikeouts. Kyle Funkhouser followed with a scoreless eighth, punching out both DJ LaMahieu and Aaron Judge. And Joe Jimenez bolted it down in the ninth, pitching around a one-out walk. 

"It feels good," Castro said. "We won the series. But tomorrow we're going to come with the same mentality and fight."

Twitter: @cmccosky

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