In RHP Luis Castillo, Tigers add a different look to their bullpen
Detroit — Tigers manager AJ Hinch doesn’t typically put a premium on having pitchers with different arm angles in his bullpen. The premium is on guys who throw strikes and get outs, regardless of arm angle. For him, it's more about matching up his relievers’ elite pitches with hitters' weaknesses.
Alex Lange’s breaking ball against right-handed hitters who tend to chase, for example. Or Joe Jimenez’s high-spin four-seamer up in the zone against a hitter with a steep launch-angle swing.
But seeing what he’s seen this season, facing bullpens like Tampa Bay and Minnesota, who run out different-styled relievers one after another and hearing his hitters talk on the difficulties that presents — well, he’s warming to the idea of offering a different look out of his pen.
Right-hander Luis Castillo fits that bill. The Tigers selected the 27-year-old career minor-leaguer from Triple-A Toledo Saturday to replace Bryan Garcia, who was optioned back to Toledo Friday night.
“He has a resilient arm and he’s tough on right-handers with his sinker-slider mix from that three-quarter arm angle,” Hinch said. “We’re seeing it more as a trend throughout the league where you are giving different looks to hitters.
“He has a different arm angle and we don’t have that. He’s fresh and our bullpen needs a fresh arm. And he’s performed. So the only thing he hasn’t been challenged with is pitching in the big leagues.”
Eleven years Castillo has toiled in the minor leagues and in Dominican summer and winter leagues. He was in the Diamondbacks' organization until the Tigers signed him as a minor-league free agent last offseason.
Even though he’s pitched well at every level, finally getting that elusive big-league call nearly floored him. Mud Hens manager Lloyd McClendon and pitching coach Doug Bochtler called him into their office Friday after the Mud Hens lost in Des Moines, Iowa.
“To be honest, I had to steady myself,” Castillo said through Tigers’ bilingual interpreter Carlos Guillen. “I couldn’t believe it. After 11 years working hard in the minors. After all that time just trying to get here, to finally get that call, it meant a lot to me. I am just really happy for it.”
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After starting the season in Double-A, which was a jolt to him — he was caught up on the wrong side of the roster crunch — he’s been steady as a rock for Toledo. He’s 3-1 with a 1.56 ERA with 32 strikeouts and 10 walks in 34.2 innings.
“This is a dream coming true,” he said. ““It has been a long process, but I never gave up. There were difficult moments in which I thought I would never be able to get here. But I stayed positive, trusted in the talent that I had and kept working hard, and today I’m fulfilling my dream.”
He’s no stranger to big-league hitters, having faced them in the Dominican winter league for four seasons. He’s pitched 71 innings there with a 2.14 ERA and a 0.995 WHIP. He allowed just two home runs in those 71 innings.
Limiting the long ball is part of his package: He has allowed 28 homers (.05 homers per nine innings) in 535 minor-league innings.
“He should be happy to be here, it’s been a nice journey for him,” Hinch said. “He’s been through a couple of different organizations and he’s truly someone who has earned a look. He’s been very good from a different angle.
“He started in Double-A, which he wasn’t expecting, but he took that news well and just continued to get outs. We will have a different look in our pen and he’ll have an opportunity to see what the big leagues are like.”
His first taste came Saturday night, pitching a scoreless ninth in the Tigers' 9-1 win.
"It was wonderful," Castillo said. "I felt great, felt like I was doing the same thing I was doing in the minors, just throwing my stuff...Today I collected a lot of firsts."
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Rehab starts can be a double-edged sword, especially for a young pitcher like Beau Brieske. They are beneficial to ease him back after a 19-day stint on the injured list. But in a season when his innings are going to be restricted the final two months, you hate to waste the bullets in the minor leagues.
“Innings are innings,” Hinch said. “Part of the quiet period for him has been to reserve some innings for us later in the season.”
Well, he used up 7.1 innings in two starts with Toledo. On Friday, he went 4.1 innings, struck out eight and allowed a run on three hits. His fastball hit 96 mph and he was commanding his breaking ball. All of which signaled readiness to Hinch.
Barring any unforeseen setbacks, Brieske could be back as early as Wednesday against the Guardians.
“We will still probably monitor him and keep him at five innings and nurse his innings along,” Hinch said. “We are trying to delicately handle the middle part of his season so he can pitch deeper into a season than he ever has before.”
In his third season of professional ball (he didn’t pitch in 2020), he’s thrown 99 innings. He’s made 15 starts and thrown 81.2 innings for the Tigers. The most he’s pitched in a season was 106.2 innings between West Michigan and Erie last season.
Around the horn
Lefty Joey Wentz, who has been working his way off the minor-league injured list (pinched nerve, shoulder), is scheduled to make a rehab start for Toledo on Wednesday. He and Bryan Garcia are expected to piggyback that start. One of the two would be a candidate to join the Tigers as the 27th man and start one of the games of the doubleheader in Cleveland on Monday, Aug. 15.
… First baseman Spencer Torkelson is off to a strong start in the month of August. In five games in Toledo, he’s 7 for 20 with a double and two home runs. He’s also struck out seven times with no walks.
Rays at Tigers
First pitch: 1:40 p.m. Sunday, Comerica Park, Detroit
TBA, Rays: The Rays are expected to announce their starter after the game Saturday.
RHP Matt Manning (0-0, 3.46), Tigers: Second start back after missing more than three months with a shoulder injury. He covered five innings in 78 pitches last Tuesday at Minnesota. His fastball was a little rusty, but he had surprisingly good command with his slider, change-up and curve.