Detroit Tigers shortstop Willi Castro fielded a weak two-out grounder from speedy Minnesota Twins outfielder Byron Buxton with runners on second and third in the bottom of the ninth inning.
But Castro wasn’t able to relay the throw to first baseman Jeimer Candelario in time — allowing the game-winning run to score. The Twins’ 4-3 walk-off on an infield single pushed the 17-20 Tigers’ losing streak to four games.
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Bench coach Lloyd McClendon, who was filling in because manager Ron Gardenhire left the game with a stomach virus, didn’t think there’s anything that would’ve changed the outcome of the play.
“He charged that ball,” McClendon said Saturday. “This guy might be the best runner in baseball. That’s a tough play, and I think Willi did everything he could in that situation.”
It’s a scenario Castro could find himself in again, as Niko Goodrum is on the 10-day injured list. His right oblique injury has given Castro has the chance to show the organization he is an everyday shortstop, and that he can play there long term.
“That’s actually where I feel comfortable, just trying to be there, help the team win,” Castro said Sunday. “I think I’m doing a better job making those routine plays and being successful in it.”
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Gardenhire likes the defensive combination of Goodrum and second baseman Jonathan Schoop up the middle, so he initially wanted Castro in a utility role playing the infield and corner outfield positions.
But for now, shortstop is Castro’s only gig until Goodrum returns.
“That’s a tough loss, losing your shortstop who was playing so well defensively,” Gardenhire said Saturday. “But a lot of people, myself included, believe Willi is going to be a big-league shortstop. … Might get (Sergio) Alcantara in there, too, and let him get his first swings, but Willi’s going to get the bulk of it. We want to see this kid, how he’s going to do on a day-to-day basis.”
In 16 games this year, Castro is hitting .345 with six doubles, one triple, one homer and eight walks. He has 16 strikeouts compared to one walk. Before moving to the injured list, Goodrum had five home runs and a .186 average through 31 contests — with 50 strikeouts and 13 walks.
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Castro’s improvement from last season’s .230 batting average can be credited to Cleveland Indians veteran first baseman Carlos Santana, who worked with him throughout the COVID-19 pandemic once spring training was canceled.
He showed him a new routine.
“With a short bat, working with my backhand on both sides (as a switch-hitter),” Castro said. “Try to stay back, try to feel my feet in a strong position. That’s been helping me a lot. Sometimes I get too excited and swing at bad pitches. I’m just focusing on that spot where I want to hit the ball.”
Alcantara makes MLB debut
Infielder Sergio Alcantara was placed in the starting lineup Sunday, replacing everyday third baseman Isaac Paredes, for his debut in the majors.
Paredes is 1-for-21 with one walk and seven strikeouts in his last eight games. The 21-year-old started his career 7-for-22 with one homer, six RBIs and four walks compared to eight strikeouts in his first seven contests in the majors.
So Gardenhire decided to give Paredes a break and Alcantara, 24, a jumpstart to his big-league career.
Last season, Alcantara hit .247 with two homers, 27 RBIs, 48 walks and 71 strikeouts in 102 games for Double-A Erie. He is a proven defender, but the organization is waiting to see if he will have success on offense at the highest level.
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“(His arm) is really strong,” Castro said. “I haven’t seen an arm like that. Everybody was saying that back then, that he had a really good arm. When I first saw him, that was a really amazing arm.”
Gardy still sick
Gardenhire left the sixth inning of Saturday’s game with the stomach bug and did not return. As of Sunday morning, he is still feeling under the weather, according to the Tigers. His status for Sunday’s 2:10 p.m. game has not been determined.
If he is unable to manage, McClendon will take over.
Evan Petzold is a sports reporting intern at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.