When Detroit Tigers infielder Willi Castro heard Tuesday morning he was being called up from the alternate training site in Toledo, he gave himself a vote of confidence by explaining his growth.
Ever since the 23-year-old was sent down at the end of summer camp, he stayed focused and honed his craft in battles against Casey Mize and Matt Manning — two of the best pitching prospects in baseball. He wanted to be ready for when his name was called, especially after getting a taste in 30 games last year (batting .230 with one homer and eight RBIs).
“Last year, when I got called up, I was a little nervous,” Castro said Tuesday. “But now, I’ve been with the team and know everybody here, so it’s like a family.”
On Wednesday, Castro proved he can help his baseball family, despite a 7-5 loss to the Chicago White Sox at Comerica Park. He went 3-for-4 with a two-run home run and looks forward to continuing his success. Doing so, however, begins with maintaining his routine.
“I’m never going to stop saying this,” Castro said Wednesday, “but I think my routine is the key for this. When I was back in Toledo, I was doing (this) every day, coming in early to the cage and working with (hitting coach Mike) Hessman. That’s something I got to keep up.”
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Batting out of the No. 9 hole and playing third base, Castro recorded his first hit on a 97 mph fastball against Dylan Cease. And in the fourth, he adjusted on a change-up for a 404-foot two-run shot.
The exit velocity? 108 mph.
“He had a good day,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “Willi had a really good day swinging the bat, played well out there at third base. He had one play where he got a little mixed up. The guy was running and we were going to throw to second base.”
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The mix up came on a fifth-inning ground ball from Edwin Encarnacion, which should’ve been scooped up by Castro and tossed to second base for a force-out. Instead, Castro went to cover third base as the runner at second base, Tim Anderson, attempted to steal third, and left shortstop Niko Goodrum to make a play. By the time Goodrum scooped up the ball, there wasn’t a throw to be made.
Everyone was safe, and the bases were loaded.
Two batters later, Luis Robert drove them all in on an RBI double to take a 7-5 lead.
But Castro has only played three innings at third base in his professional career, with Triple-A Toledo in 2019. When he was in Detroit last season, he spent all 253 innings at shortstop.
“He hadn’t been over there,” Gardenhire said. “And, you know what, he had a good day today. It was just one little play where he didn’t know we were throwing to second base, not third base, and he broke.”
Gardenhire uses Castro at third base because of a knee injury to first baseman C.J. Cron. Since Jeimer Candelario is playing first base for the time being, there’s a void at third which will continue to be filled by Castro and Dawel Lugo.
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In seven games and nine at-bats, Lugo has just two hits. Last year, he registered a .245 batting average with six home runs and 26 RBIs in 77 games.
But Castro proved in Wednesday’s loss he can make hard contact at the highest level. His three hits came on the second, first and fifth pitches of each at-bat.
He plans to keep the same attacking approach.
And maybe it will be enough to win the tryout at third.
“You’ve got to be aggressive,” Castro said. “Try to get the strike zone, try to swing and don’t miss. Maybe that was the best pitch you’re going to see in the game, so you can’t miss it. And if you miss it, you have to be ready for the next one.”
Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.