Detroit Tigers finding fixes in unexpected ways: ‘Castro & Castro, it’s not a law firm’

Detroit Free Press

You couldn’t tell if A.J. Hinch had already thought up the slogan, or if it just happened naturally as he glowed about the top two hitters in his lineup. At a time when the Detroit Tigers were desperate for any source of offense, Willi Castro and Harold Castro became the sparks.

They spent the past two days hitting first and second in the batting order.

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“Castro & Castro, it’s not a law firm, it’s not a TV show,” Hinch said. “It’s just the two guys that are swinging the bat the best.”

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Since May 13, the Tigers are 12-7.

They took four of five from the American League Central-leading Minnesota Twins at Comerica Park. The Tigers, at 21-30 overall, trail the Twins by eight games.

During the Tigers’ 19-game stretch, Harold Castro hit .366 with three doubles, one triple, four home runs and eight RBIs in 12 games. A true utility player, he started and completed six of the past seven games.

“We just have to keep up the little things to win ballgames,” Harold Castro said, after Thursday’s 3-2 win on Daz Cameron’s two-run home run in the eighth inning. “We know tough moments are going to come, but we just got to keep fighting, keep playing hard, and the results are going to be there.”

Harold: ‘If I’m playing every day, I’m going to be ready’

Harold Castro, hitting .316 in 31 games, started at shortstop Wednesday and Thursday in place of Javier Báez. Hinch and Báez decided on “a couple days to reset physically, reset mentally and just watch his teammates play.”

So, Castro entered the starting lineup in an important role.

He delivered.

“I’m here to play,” Castro said. “I can’t decide when I’m playing, but I’m going to be ready. If I’m playing every day, I’m going to be ready for it.”

Castro, 28, went 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs in Wednesday’s 5-0 win, then 1-for-3 with a walk in Thursday’s win. He made a leaping catch in the seventh inning Wednesday for Skubal’s final out in the seventh inning. “I play very good basketball,” Castro said, laughing, after being asked if he knew he could jump that high.

Hinch was one batter away from calling to his bullpen.

Castro hit clutch home runs May 16 (3-2 win), May 25 (4-2 win) and May 29 (2-1 win), including his first two-homer game May 25 against the Twins at Target Field. He entered the season with eight home runs in 231 games, spanning his first four seasons.

“Man, what would we do without Harold?” Hinch said. “He’s been really good. Coming onto this team, originally, was just going to sit for a few days, three or four days, and then go out and get a hit and play any position. It’s turned into a more prominent role for now because of the performance, a little bit of health, a little bit of performance by others. He can do it.”

The leaders of the Tigers’ revival in the batters box: Jonathan Schoop and the Castros. Almost everyone is putting up better at-bats, but the three infielders have primarily carried the team recently.

Schoop, since May 13, is hitting .282 with six doubles, one triple and three home runs and 11 RBIs in 19 games. In his past 12 games, he is hitting .319 with eight extra-base hits and nine RBIs.

“We’re playing as a team,” Castro said. “If Willi gets on second with no outs, I just move the runner up on third for Schoop to bring him in. I think that’s the key for any team’s leadoff team to keep winning.”

Willi: ‘Just go out there and don’t miss the ball’

During the Tigers’ 12-7 stretch, Willi Castro hit .242 with a .290 on-base percentage in 18 games. Since May 25, he is hitting .310 with a .344 OBP and just four strikeouts in eight games.

Hinch trusted him with the leadoff spot.

The 25-year-old made in-game adjustments for successful plate appearances.

“That’s a big opportunity for me, to have a little more responsibility in the leadoff,” Willi Castro, hitting .275 in 34 games, said. “Find a good pitch to hit, go out there and compete and make the team win. … It’s better because you have to focus more. Just go out there and don’t miss the ball.”

Offense is key to his presence in the daily lineup, but there’s something to be said for being able to play all three outfield positions. He started at shortstop for the Tigers on Opening Day in 2021. He played his first game in the outfield last August at Comerica Park.

The Tigers traveled to New York for a three-game series, beginning Friday night, against the Yankees.

Hinch said there’s a chance Castro starts at all three outfield positions over the weekend. Against the Twins on Monday and in Tuesday’s Game 1, he started in left field; for Game 2 Tuesday and Thursday, he was in center; and on Wednesday, he was in right.

Wednesday’s game was his first-ever start in right, and bench coach George Lombard walked him through the positioning before the game. Castro took fly balls and tried to get as comfortable as possible.

“I really like that, playing all over the place,” Castro said. “I’ve been playing pretty good in left field and center field, so I don’t think it’s a big difference playing right field now. It feels good. It feels natural. It’s fun playing all around.”

He also plays second base, shortstop and third base.

He’s still young, despite gaining experience over four MLB seasons, and Hinch believes in his potential with the bat, so the Tigers are developing him into a super-utility player.

“As he’s gaining comfort, I’m gaining comfort,” Hinch said. “He’s going to make all the plays he’s supposed to make. The subtle things that happen during games, plays off the wall or to his left, to his right, those are all brand new for him at the different angles we’re asking him to play.

“It’s a little bit of freestyle. Go out, play baseball and see what happens.”

Something extra

• Left-hander Tarik Skubal has two honorifics: He is the last man standing from the Opening Day rotation, and he is the Tigers’ ace. The 25-year-old boasts a 2.15 ERA with 10 walks and 61 strikeouts over 58⅔ innings in 10 starts. He tossed seven innings of two-hit ball in Wednesday night’s 5-0 win. It’s early in the season, but based on the eye test and the numbers, Skubal is emerging as an American League Cy Young candidate. His 2.2 fWAR is second best among pitchers in baseball, behind only Kevin Gausman (2.7) and just ahead of Martin Perez (2.0). Catcher Tucker Barnhart, who has caught all of his starts, sees something special in Skubal.

“He works his ass off. He’s super prepared in our pitcher-catcher meetings,” Barnhart, a two-time Gold Glove winner, said. “He brings numbers and knowledge to the meeting, when a lot of guys that I’ve caught in the past just kind of listen. It’s rare for a younger guy, or a guy that doesn’t have a ton of experience, to be so versed in knowing what percentages guys swing at and counts, and what their chase rate is on certain pitches. It’s rare for a young guy, or an inexperienced guy, to do that. That’s the next step, just continuing to build good habits.”

• Although Skubal has stepped up, the Tigers still face a harsh reality with 11 players are on the injured list — seven pitchers and four position players. That’s not including Joey Wentz, Akil Baddoo and Riley Greene, all on the minor-league injured list. (Greene is playing for Triple-A Toledo as part of his rehab assignment, which is being treated like an MLB rehab assignment.) The starting rotation is without Eduardo Rodriguez, Casey Mize, Matt Manning and Michael Pineda. Willi Castro’s time at all three outfield positions was certainly unexpected on Opening Day, especially since he started the season in Toledo.

So, what’s the reason for all these injuries?

“It’s cumulative, again this is just one man’s opinion, from the pandemic year to the lockout to the shortened spring to some of the physical tool that comes,” Hinch said. “That’s got to contribute at some level. I don’t know how much of it. Our stuff is so random. These are all different. I’d probably feel better about assessing all of this if it was one issue — it’s forearm, it’s elbow, it’s shoulder, it’s hammies, it’s soft tissue stuff. We can assess all that when there’s a common theme. Other than being an active player on our team, it’s not common. That’s the only commonality amongst us. It’s frustrating. We’ve looked into a lot of different things, but it’s case by case. There’s no link together that leads us to any conclusion.”

• Greene, in his fifth rehab game — his third for Toledo — went 2-for-4 with three RBIs, one walk and one strikeout. The 21-year-old, recovered from a fracture in his right foot, launched a three-run home run off the scoreboard in right-center field in the fourth inning. He also had an opposite-field single in the third. The Mud Hens lost, 15-11, to Columbus on the road, however. Greene is hitting .294 (5-for-17) with one home run, three walks and two strikeouts in two games for Low-A Lakeland and three games for Toledo. He suffered his foot injury April 1 and missed Opening Day. He is the Tigers’ No. 1 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, and the No. 2 prospect in baseball.

• The Tigers demoted outfielder Daniel Cabrera, the No. 62 overall pick in 2020, from Double-A Erie to High-A West Michigan. The 23-year-old hit .182 with one home run, 11 walks and 36 strikeouts for the SeaWolves. He entered the Whitecaps’ lineup Thursday for his first game and went 2-for-6 with one home run and one strikeout. Last season, Cabrera hit .242 in West Michigan (99 games) and .174 in Erie (17 games). He is the Tigers’ No. 20 prospect.

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

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