Detroit Tigers’ Harold Castro breaks silence, continues to flourish in his role

Detroit Free Press

For the first time since May 16, Detroit Tigers utility infielder Harold Castro accepted an interview request.

He hustled out of the clubhouse, dressed in street clothes, and declined to speak with reporters after Tuesday night’s 4-3 win over the Kansas City Royals, in which Castro delivered a walk-off single in the bottom of the 10th inning and drove in three runs. He hadn’t provided a reason for declining nearly a dozen interview requests, if not more, over the past four months until Wednesday afternoon.

“When I had the chance, when you guys come to me to do this, I was in a hurry or something with family outside or something like that,” Castro said Wednesday. “If you guys feel like I don’t want to talk to you guys, I apologize for that. … I’m sorry. It’s not going to happen again.”

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Castro, 28, has been one of the Tigers’ most reliable hitters this season. He stepped up Tuesday when Royals manager Mike Matheny walked Javier Báez to load the bases and bring Castro to the plate. He battled with two strikes and slapped a two-strike curveball, nearly in the dirt, for a walk-off RBI single into center field.

Báez tackled Castro near second base, and the latter ran off the field — dodging the outstretched arms of Jonathan Schoop — and into the clubhouse to avoid an on-field Gatorade shower.

Tyler Alexander and Willi Castro, carrying the Gatorade jug, couldn’t catch him.

“I ran away from that Gatorade,” Castro said. “It was too cold yesterday. With all that liquid and ice, and all that, not good. That’s why I ran away from that. I’m pretty sure when (Báez) saw that Gatorade shower coming, he ran away, too.”

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Despite the cold weather, Castro was red hot for the Tigers when they needed him most. He drove in two runs in the eighth inning and another in the 10th to win the game. With that, he became the first Tigers player to have both a game-tying and walk-off hit in the eighth inning or later since Mickey Tettleton in May 1993, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

He also notched his third straight three-hit game, which is tied for the longest streak in the big leagues this season and the longest by a Tiger since Nick Castellanos had back-to-back three-hit games in 2018. Willie Horton and Magglio Ordóñez produced four consecutive three-hit games in 1965 and 2008, respectively.

“Thank God,” Castro said. “He gave me that ability to put the ball in play and put the barrel on it.”

This season, Castro is the Tigers’ third-best hitter among players with at least 150 plate appearances.

His 96 wRC+ ranks behind only Eric Haase (105) and Riley Greene (99) and ahead of Báez (89), Willi Castro (80), Jeimer Candelario (78), Spencer Torkelson (75), Miguel Cabrera (74) and Schoop (56).

“His defensive versatility is mostly in the infield, but he filled in at first base for a long, long time while we had Tork down in Triple-A,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “Him being an answer is an important player for a manager. I trust him. I know he’s going to be ready to play. I know he’s going to put the ball in play, generally.”

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During Torkelson’s absence, from July 21 through Sept. 1, Castro became an everyday player — primarily as a first baseman — and started 36 of the Tigers’ 39 games. He posted a .663 OPS with five walks and 30 strikeouts.

Castro has started 15 of the Tigers’ 22 games since Sept. 2.

“That gives me more confidence in myself,” Castro said. “If I go 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, I’m pretty sure I’m playing, so I have a chance to improve myself the next day. That takes away a little bit of pressure. It’s so different when you play every day (compared) to when you’re coming off the bench.”

In 2022, Castro has 15 three-hit games.

He puts the ball in play against left-handed and right-handed pitchers, though he’s better against righties in his five-year career. He is batting .275 with career-bests in doubles (20) and home runs (seven), along with 16 walks and 76 strikeouts in a career-high 114 games this season.

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Reflecting on Castro’s performance, Hinch thinks back to a conversation that occurred at the end of the past two spring trainings. Both years, Hinch told Castro not to worry about his lack of playing time early in the season.

“I know,” Castro responded. “But when you need me, you’ll call me.”

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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