“George came to me in the eighth inning and he [asked] me, ‘Hey, how’s your arm?’ I said, ‘It’s good,’” Castro recalled.
“OK,” Lombard responded to him, “so you want to throw the ninth?”
And with that, the super-utility career of Castro took another turn. He has played every defensive position but catcher in his brief Major League career, but until Monday, he had never pitched — not in the Majors, not in the Minors.
“Little League, yes. But professionally, never,” Castro said. “That was my first one.”
It wasn’t pretty. Castro’s 71-72 mph fastball was slow enough with movement that it initially registered as a curveball on Statcast, until his actual curveball came in on Twins hitter Kyle Garlick at 65 mph. Castro joked around with catcher Wilson Ramos that he had a splitter, slider, changeup and cutter ready to throw.
What Castro also had was the awareness that it was going to be just as awkward for hitters — even Twins slugger Nelson Cruz — as it was for him.
“I know as a hitter, it’s tough to hit [off] a position player,” Castro said. “So I was trying just to throw the ball to Wilson, right in the middle, and they’re going to make outs for themselves. It’s tough, because as a hitter, you want to do more, and because you know it’s going to be easy, it’s going to be slow. You try to do more, and that’s what happened.”
The result was the only hitless performance by a Tigers reliever all afternoon. Castro retired Cruz on a fly ball to the left-field warning track, walked Garlick, then retired Brent Rooker and Jake Cave on his next two pitches.
“That was the cleanest inning we had,” Detroit manager A.J. Hinch said.
It was the latest chapter in a career during which Castro has succeeded doing everything the Tigers have asked of him and then some. He made his Major League in 2018 as a mid-September callup, having already gone home when the Tigers suddenly needed roster help. He found a place on then-manager Ron Gardenhire’s roster as primarily second baseman and center fielder in ’19 before moving around everywhere.
That versatility, plus a left-handed bat that can sit for spells and still be relatively effective, eventually won over Hinch, who played Castro at a different spot seemingly every day for most of camp before choosing Castro over Renato Núñez for the Opening Day roster.
“He’s easy to like and easy to appreciate when it comes to being an answer to a lot of different things,” Hinch said at the end of Spring Training. “I mean, you ambush these guys as a manager with whatever the game presents. It’s hard to predict or project exactly what he’s going to do on any given day, and his attitude and approach to that job has been very, very positive. Quite honestly, it’s why managers fall in love with him.”