DETROIT — Former teammates of Mariners great Ichiro Suzuki used to talk about how he would crush home runs in batting practice, just to let people know that he could hit for power when he wanted, but his pure hitting was more valuable.
As Harold Castro teed off in batting practice Wednesday afternoon at Comerica Park, manager A.J. Hinch had to wonder if his utility infielder was in the same mold.
“Matt Boyd and I are sitting in left-center field watching Harold hit homer after homer in BP,” Hinch recalled after Wednesday’s 8-6 win over Oakland. “And I’m like, ‘This guy can hit, he keeps the ball in the air. But you watch tonight, he’s going to get up and just going to try to slap some singles around.'”
Sure enough, Castro slapped the first pitch from A’s starter James Kaprielian through the left side of a drawn-in infield for an opposite-field RBI single.
After a fourth-inning flyout to center, Castro stepped to the plate with two on and nobody out in the sixth against A’s reliever Yusmeiro Petit, who had retired all five batters he had faced. When Petit hung a curveball, Castro crushed it into the visiting bullpen.
“That’s big-man territory there,” Hinch said, “so Boyd has to remind me [in the dugout] of that conversation, that he can hit the ball in the air, hit the ball far when he wants to.”
Little did Hinch know that as Castro was taking those swings in batting practice, he had half a mind to become Homerin’ Harold going in.
“I said this to, I don’t know who, I think it was Niko [Goodrum],” Castro said. “I said, ‘I feel like I’m going to hit a home run today.’ I was swinging the ball hard in BP.”
As the Tigers begin the home stretch of their season, Castro might not be done.
“That’s what I’m going to try to do this month,” he continued. “I’m going to charge early when I’m hitting, to try to hit the ball hard this last month.”
It could end up being lip service. As Castro acknowledged, he adjusts his swing to the situation. He was trying to hit the ball hard to the outfield on his RBI single earlier, he said, but gladly took the hard-hit grounder through the drawn-in infield.
That’s his track record. Wednesday’s homer was just his second of the season, and seventh in his big league career. It was just the second opposite-field homer of his career, and his first at Comerica Park. He last went oppo at Tropicana Field in 2019.
It was also just his 10th extra-base hit out of 70 hits this season. His average exit velocity of 88.6 mph is in the bottom half of Tigers players this year, and slightly down from his 89 mph average last season.
Still, Castro can become Homerin’ Harold when the opportunity presents itself. He has hit 25 balls this year with exit velocities of 100 mph or higher, as many as Goodrum and more than Victor Reyes, Zack Short, Jake Rogers or Derek Hill.
“Harold will never give up, you know, the hit,” Hinch said. “It’s not as if he’s going to sell out and you’re gonna start to see these monster swings. But he can drive the ball. He will pop the ball here or there. But let’s not forget that he makes his money being a really good at-bat, bat-to-ball, base-hit artist. When the power comes, then all the better.
“He did show [Wednesday] that he’s got plenty of power. But I think Harold having a good at-bat is probably more important than focusing on the power.”