Detroit Tigers giving Willi Castro a ‘long leash’ to make improvements this season

Detroit Free Press

Willi Castro clapped his hands as he turned the corner, passing Detroit Tigers third base coach Chip Hale. He made the same gesture upon crossing home plate, before celebrating with Victor Reyes.

In the seventh inning of Monday’s 6-5 loss to Cleveland at Comerica Park, Castro got a fastball down and away from reliever Nick Wittgren in a 3-2 count. He pulled the ball 356 feet to the first row of seats in right field. His third home run this season — a two-run blast — cut his team’s deficit to one.

“Felt great,” Castro said after the game. “I’ve been struggling a little bit, so I just came up with the mentality today to keep going. I trust my talent. I can’t let my head down. I’ve got to keep battling. It’s a long season, and I’m starting to feel myself again.”

Castro finished 2-for-4 with three RBIs. He gave the Tigers their first run in the bottom of the second, slapping a bloop double into right field off Cleveland starter Sam Hentges. He needed a strong performance, considering the 24-year-old is hitting .204 with seven walks and 45 strikeouts in 37 games.

Next, the Tigers need Castro to find consistency.

“We just need the best version of him and need him to grow and mature and be more comfortable in what’s asked of him in the big leagues,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said Tuesday. “His skill set is very real. We do believe in him. He’s got a long leash to figure things out.”

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At times, Castro has shown glimpses of what he displayed in the 2020 season. He tied for fourth place in American League Rookie of the Year voting by hitting .349 with six homers and 24 RBIs in 36 games. Last year, he recorded four doubles and two triples, with seven walks and 38 strikeouts.

Hinch said the Tigers are willing to give Castro a surplus of opportunities to develop at the major-league level because of his inexperience. He only has 398 plate appearances across 103 games over three seasons.

“He happened to have a nice little breakout last season,” Hinch said. “Now he’s being challenged. It’s going to take a little bit of time for him to answer back.”

[ What Tigers think about Willi Castro as ‘struggles have piled up’ in 2021 season ]

One reason for the difference in his results comes from his BABIP: Batting average on balls in play. This statistic measures how often batted balls (other than home runs) end up as hits, and it’s a good way to measure how lucky a hitter is based on the defense.

Castro finished 2020 with an unsustainable .448 BABIP. In 2021, he is down to a .281. (The league average is .289.)

But his struggles can’t merely be chalked up to bad luck. His strikeout rate is 30.4%; his walk rate is 4.7%. Also, Castro’s barrel rate is down from 9.6% in 2020 to 3.3% in 2021. The barrel metric combines hitting the ball hard and making contact at the best possible launch angle to warrant success.

“Mentally, I can’t let that affect my season,” Castro said. “I trust my abilities. I trust my talent. I think that’s why everybody is here at this level, because of the abilities and the talent. Every day I come out and try to do my best.”

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To find a fix, Castro isn’t pressing. He hasn’t changed anything about his swing from last season and believes better results are on the way.

Castro and Hinch hope Monday’s performance serves as a catalyst for improvement.

“Oftentimes with young players, when we talk about confidence, we talk about hitting quite a bit,” Hinch said. “There are other aspects of his game that we need to develop. Obviously, there’s been talk on his defense. He can be a more impactful base runner (with) the more reps he gets.

“It was nice to see him break out and have a couple of good swings — one right-handed, one left-handed — and have a productive night. It takes nights like that for players to rebelieve in their impact that they can have at this level.”

Greiner gears up for rehab

The Tigers placed catcher Grayson Greiner on the 10-day injured list May 12 with a left hamstring strain. He is set to begin his rehabilitation assignment with Triple-A Toledo on Wednesday, as the Mud Hens play the second of six games against the Louisville Bats in Kentucky.

“He’ll catch a partial game and then he’s going to DH,” Hinch said. “Then there will be a rest day and then he’ll get into catching a couple days in a row. I think that’s the game plan right now. We just want to get him up and running tomorrow with a partial game behind the plate.”

Hinch said Greiner is “feeling good” in his return from injury.

Greiner played 14 games as the Tigers’ backup catcher before hurting his hamstring. He hit .237 with one home run, five RBIs, one walk and 16 strikeouts.

The other side

Cleveland right-hander Zach Plesac was put on the 10-day injured list Tuesday, the result of breaking the thumb on his pitching hand while yanking off his undershirt after a rough outing.

Free Press news services contributed. Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter

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