Tigers’ AJ Hinch trying not to turn a molehill into a mountain with Willi Castro’s defense

Detroit News

Chris McCosky | The Detroit News

Lakeland, Fla. — Almost daily, manager AJ Hinch is asked about his concern level regarding shortstop Willi Castro’s defense at shortstop, specifically, his throwing.

“Accuracy is key, but you can focus on that and make it a problem if you are not careful,” he said.

Well, Castro isn’t making it easy to ignore. He made his second error of the spring Wednesday, a throwing error, in the Tigers’ 4-2 spring loss to the Phillies.

“He’s going to make a bad throw, nobody is perfect,” Hinch said “To me, the process leading up to the throw has to be fluid and consistent.”

The Tigers have been working with Castro to keep the tempo on his throws to first base. He has a tendency to take an extra crow-hop and tap his glove before he throws to first. He was almost too casual on his errant throw that pulled Jeimer Candelario off the bag in the second inning Wednesday.

In the third, he almost gave away an out with another looping lob to first. It looked like Castro was overly self-conscious about the throw.

“I haven’t asked if he was conscious about it and I don’t really care if he’s conscious about it,” Hinch said. “He’s got the ingredients to be good. He’s going to make a mistake or two every now and then. And he’s the first one to be frustrated when he does.

“We will continue to work with him.”

Third-inning mess

The third inning turned into a four-run disaster for the Tigers.

Buck Farmer, in his first game work of the spring, walked a batter and hit Didi Gregorius on an 0-2 pitch. He also gave up a two-strike triple to Travis Jankowski and a two-strike, two-run single to Brad Miller.

Center fielder Derek Hill gave Miller second base by bypassing the cut-off man and trying to throw out Gregorius at third base.

“You want to control the batter-runner,” Hinch said. “I liked that Derek kept the throw down. I had asked Harold (Castro, third baseman) if he could have come off the bag, cut it off and saved two or three feet and make it an easier play at second.

“But in a perfect world, we end up first and third there.”

The fourth run was a gift, too. Right fielder Riley Greene misplayed a liner off the bat of Andrew Knapp. He took a step in, hesitated, then couldn’t recover. The ball went over his head for a double.

“Those things need to happen for guys to get a little bit of experience,” Hinch said. “But he’s going to do things aggressively and that’s one of the things I love about him.”

Game bits

Left-hander Daniel Norris was sharp — scoreless and hitless — in his spring debut. The only blemish on his 22-pitch effort was Castro’s throwing error. He ended his day by striking out former Tiger Matt Joyce with a nasty change-up and Roman Quinn with a slider. “I’ll take an outing like that, for sure,” he said.

Spencer Torkelson entered the game at first base in the fifth inning. Hinch had said last week that he intended to give Torkelson reps at first, while continuing to develop him at third base. He likely will play first base a couple of times a week at West Michigan, in addition to working at third. As it happens, the first batter in the fifth hit a squibber right at him, which he fielded with no problem.

… Torkelson struck out looking in his only plate appearance.

…So what was catcher Eric Haase doing playing left field the last couple of innings? Trying to extend his resume. “We’re trying to work in five guys behind the plate, so getting him at-bats was part of it,” Hinch said. “But also over the next six to nine months or two to three years, his ability to move around the diamond will help him be more of a factor at the Major League level. He’s athletic enough.” Haase has also worked in at first base.

Just being prepared  

Hinch caught everyone’s attention during a Zoom interview on Tuesday. Talking about how the outfield might shake out, he seemed to indication there were configurations where JaCoby Jones was not in center field.

Fear not, Jones is still option one in center.

“He’s going to play a couple of positions this spring,” Hinch said. “I try to plan for everything. I’m not trying to throw hand grenades into your roster predictions, but we need guys to do multiple things. You will see him left field. I’ve talked to him about that.”

Victor Reyes has yet to make his camp debut, but he will get some reps in center field. If Rule 5 rookie Akil Baddoo sticks, he is also a true center fielder. Harold Castro and Niko Goodrum have both played center field.

And not for nothing, in 2018 when Jones played left field beside center fielder Leonys Martin, he was a plus-13 defensive runs saved.

“I try to prepare for everything so we can make every decision imaginable, and that includes JaCoby playing off center,” Hinch said. “It’s not a cause for alarm. Just preparation.”

Around the horn

…Hinch said he hopes to start playing full, nine-inning games beginning Friday in Tampa against the Yankees. Barring some last-minute change in player availability, the Saturday and Sunday games at Joker Marchant Stadium will be nine innings. “There won’t be any more five-inning games unless Armageddon hits,” Hinch said.

…The Tigers believe Michael Fulmer, who is returning from paternity leave, will clear intake testing in time to make his start on Saturday. Skubal will also pitch Saturday. On Sunday, veteran newcomers Jose Urena and Julio Teheran are expected to make their spring debuts. Mize also will pitch Sunday.

…Hinch said it’s looking more and more like right-hander Rony Garcia won’t be starting the season on time. Recovering from an appendectomy, there is still no timetable for him to begin throwing off a mound.


Twitter: @cmccosky

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