Ex-Detroit Tiger Willi Castro: ‘I really appreciate A.J. Hinch’ for instilling versatility

Detroit Free Press

MINNEAPOLIS — Miguel Cabrera dumped a first-pitch fastball into the left-field corner with two outs in the fifth inning. The Detroit Tigers planned to score the first run of Saturday’s game on Cabrera’s double, as Zack Short hustled around the bases.

That’s until the Minnesota Twins’ defense took away the opportunity.

Left fielder Willi Castro, an infielder who learned to play the outfield with the Tigers in the 2021-22 seasons, chased after the ball in the left field corner. His strong throw to shortstop Carlos Correa started the game-changing relay and play at the plate.

“I’m taking advantage of the opportunity here,” said Castro, in his first season with the Twins. “They see the kind of player that I am and are giving me the chance to play everywhere on the field. I really appreciate (Tigers manager) A.J. Hinch because he was the one that got me to play everywhere.”

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Correa, one of the best defensive shortstops, caught the frozen rope from Castro in the shallow part of the outfield and not far from the foul line down the third-base line. He turned and threw a bullet to catcher Ryan Jeffers.

In one bounce, the ball traveled into Jeffers’ glove in the right-handed batter’s box. The perfect throw from Correa, thanks to Castro’s perfect throw from the outfield, beat Short to the plate for the third out in the top of the fifth inning.

“They have to make two perfect throws,” Short said, “and they did.”

“Their defense was really a huge part of today,” Hinch said. “That relay, obviously, Carlos has got a cannon, and it was a nice tag by Jeffers.”

The Tigers ended up losing, 2-0.

“It was fun,” Castro said. “I was just focused. The past few days, we have been throwing to the cutoff. Sometimes, we overthrow the cutoff. We’ve been working on that the past few games, and it’s been better. If we make those throws, we’re going to get a lot of runners. That’s what happened.”

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Castro, 26, is hitting .254 with five home runs, seven walks and 49 strikeouts in 57 games, plus a career-high 13 stolen bases in 15 attempts. He started his career with the Tigers in 2019 as an infielder, but once Hinch took over as the manager in 2021, Castro learned to play the outfield.

He studied the outfield under bench coach George Lombard.

“When I got here, all the talk was about him being the starting shortstop,” Hinch said. “We moved him to second. We moved him to the outfield. We moved him up and down throughout the order. I think he might have batted third in my first lineup. I watched Willi do a lot of different things and loved his versatility. He responded with a willingness to do anything, and it’s paid off.”

In 2022, Castro started more games in the outfield than the infield for the Tigers. But the Tigers, under new president of baseball operations Scott Harris, non-tendered him in November 2022.

“I had a really good year in 2020, and I had the worst season of my career in 2021, and then last year was OK,” Castro said. “When you struggle, you put too much pressure on yourself and try to do more. This year, I trusted my ability to compete and help the team win. The mentality this year got way better. I’m focused on my ability, and I think that’s the key to keeping me going this year.”

Rehabbing relievers in Triple-A Toledo

Right-handed reliever Beau Brieske (right ulnar nerve entrapment) looked sharp in back-to-back appearances for Triple-A Toledo on Friday and Saturday as part of his rehab assignment.

The 25-year-old has competed in five games during his rehab assignment, including three games with the Mud Hens. Brieske has thrown 5⅓ scoreless innings with one hit, three walks and five strikeouts.

“He was really, really encouraged by how he felt,” Hinch said. “I think he may have anticipated soreness or fatigue. He told me that he was really proud that he was able to get past that landmark, that accomplishment. It’s been a long road for him, and it hasn’t always been smooth. This going smoothly is an enormous step.”

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The Tigers have until July 7 — which is 30 days after he started his rehab assignment in High-A West Michigan — to activate Brieske to the 26-man roster or option him to the Mud Hens.

Right-handed reliever Trey Wingenter (right biceps tendinitis) advanced to Triple-A Toledo on Saturday and continued his rehab assignment. He threw one scoreless inning with one strikeout, tossing 10 of 14 pitches for strikes.

The 29-year-old threw 11 fastballs and three sliders.

His fastball averaged 95.4 mph and maxed out at 96.5 mph.

“He needs some more time,” Hinch said. “He got through a full inning and felt great. His stuff was better and the strikes were better. An interesting side note, he also went to the upper level. When you’re in A-ball as a major-league rehabber, I think he might have needed that extra edge of the better competition, and that got him in the strike zone a little bit better.”

Casey Mize joins Tigers in Minneapolis

Right-hander Casey Mize, the 2018 No. 1 overall pick, traveled with the Tigers for their four-game series against the Twins at Target Field. He underwent Tommy John surgery on June 15, 2022.

He has been playing catch five times per week.

“It’s important for us because he’s very much a big part of our present and future,” Hinch said. “You get lost in that rehab. For him, it’s going to be over a year. It’s a difficult mindset. He was probably devastated the most because I guaranteed him future road trips if we swept the Twins.”

Matt Vierling scratched from lineup

The Tigers scratched center fielder Matt Vierling from the lineup due to low back spasms ahead of Sunday’s series finale against the Twins. Jake Marisnick replaced him as the center fielder.

“He hit today, too, so it wasn’t like he was shut down or anything,” Hinch said after Sunday’s 6-4 win. “I think he coughed and his back started to lock up a little bit. He was a little bit awkward.”

Vierling was on the injured list for low back soreness from May 29 through June 11. Since returning, the 26-year-old has hit .429 (9-for-21) with three home runs, two walks and four strikeouts in six games.

“He was probably going to get today or tomorrow off,” Hinch said. “We gave him today off. I may sit him tomorrow out of precaution. As of the report I got early on, it has nothing to do with the previous situation.”

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

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