Detroit — Sometimes he will smile, nod his head and just walk away. Other times he will say, “Not right now, I have to get ready,” or, “Not right now, I have to eat.”
He’s never brusque or rude. He is almost always pleasant and polite.
But Hittin’ Harold Castro, who speaks perfectly fluent English, becomes Hushed Harold when it comes to giving media interviews. He’d just rather not. And that is all fine and good. But his reticence shouldn’t keep us from trumpeting what has been a most productive season for him.
In a season where the Tigers have scored the fewest runs in baseball (354) and have the lowest OPS (.619) and wRC-plus (76), a season where they have the second-highest chase rate (35.8%) and sixth-highest strikeout rate (23.8%), Castro has steadily put forth one quality at-bat after another.
“He’s not one-dimensional,” manager AJ Hinch said. “He’s even increased his power a little bit this season. He just puts the bat on the ball. It’s amazing. We always talk about the ‘lousy’ single, like what good is that? But when you really need a hit the most, you want Harold up to bat.”
That was the case in the fifth inning Saturday night. The Tigers were down 1-0 against one of the nastiest left-handed pitchers in the game, Tampa’s Shane McClanahan. But with Willi Castro at third and two outs, left-handed hitting Harold Castro slapped a lousy single to left to tie the game.
“He’s held his own against lefties,” Hinch said. “That was probably the toughest assignment he could have had, lefty on lefty yesterday, and he came through with a really big hit. Maybe we should stop doubting him.”
Hinch has. Since Spencer Torkelson was optioned to the Toledo at the All-Star break, Castro has been the regular first baseman. And against right-handed pitchers, he’s hit in the middle of Hinch’s batting order.
“It’s been fun to watch him develop into more of a regular,” Hinch said. “We’re not moving him around as much, just out of need. He’s played more at first base. But it’s his bat-to-ball skills that makes him attractive as a hitter.”
If you call up his spray chart, it looks like a Jackson Pollock print — various colored dots, representing hits, in thick blots in left field, center field and right field.
Saturday was his 10th game with three or more hits — eighth-most in the majors. Entering play Sunday, he’d made 15 starts since the All-Star break, slashing .310/.333/.397 with a .733 OPS, five doubles, five RBIs and six runs scored. On the season, he’s hitting .287 with a 108 OPS-plus.
He is also one of the few Tigers’ hitters feasting on fastballs this season, hitting .321 with a .500 slug.
“There’s not a fastball he can’t hit,” Hinch said. “The best part of Harold is his swing is simple enough that I don’t have to play him every day and he can still time it up. It’s a little more old-fashioned hitting where you time up the fastball and adjust to everything else. That’s kind of Harold in a nutshell.
“Just take that lousy single when you want it and drive it when you can.”
One of the byproducts of Harold Castro’s consistent production has been a drastically reduced role for Kody Clemens.
When Torkelson was sent out, the initial plan was for Clemens to be part of a timeshare at first base, getting most of his starts against right-handed pitching. But Castro has made it next to impossible for Hinch to take him out of the lineup.
Thus, Clemens, who got the start at first base Sunday, came into the game with just two at-bats in August. Since the break, he’s played in just seven games with 14 plate appearances. He carried an 0-for-13 skid into the game.
“I’m not sure that’s going to change a ton,” Hinch said of Clemens’ sporadic playing time. “Obviously, I will get him in when I can. He’s had a great attitude about it. He wants to be here, he wants to learn. It’s just the reality of what his role his right now.”
Clemens is 26 and, after playing three full seasons of high-level college ball at Texas, has 1,386 minor-league at-bats. He’s not fully developed as a player, but he’s close. Playing sparingly at the big-league level isn’t going to cause any regression.
Besides, Clemens is right where he wants to be.
“If this is my role, I’m here for it,” he said. “I just need to keep grinding and do everything I can to try to produce when I am in the lineup. Just be a great teammate and try to help the guys whatever way I can.”
His work ethic is second to none. His pregame routine is exhausting — fielding drills at several positions, endless reps in the batting cage and on the field in early batting practice. Just about every day you can find him standing in the batter’s box during pitchers’ bullpen sessions to keep his timing on point.
“We still have two months to go, so we will see what happens with my plan and what they want me to do,” he said. “I like being up here, I love being around these guys and I’m going to keep working every single day. My mentality is fine. I’m not pressing or anything.
“I just think what people don’t know is that it’s hard to do what I’m doing, not playing every day. But at the same time, if that’s my role I need to figure out how to produce for the team when my name is called.”
First step for E-Rod
Lefty starter Eduardo Rodriguez took a positive step forward Saturday night. In his first rehab start at Low-A Lakeland, he covered three innings in 59 pitches, allowed a run with five strikeouts and a walk.
“He felt really good yesterday,” Hinch said. “It was actually good that he had to work through his three innings. He had a couple of long innings which is good and he had to make some pitches. He was excited how he felt in game and post.
“He hasn’t competed in a really long time. He’s on schedule.”
Hinch said Rodriguez’s next start will be with Triple-A Toledo in four or five days.
“We have a plan in place, but we’re not ready to discuss it until he gets deeper into his rehab assignment,” Hinch said.
Rodriguez has been on the restricted list since June 13.