Back in 2014, Blue Jays reliever Anthony Castro was still in Rookie ball with the Tigers, a teenager beginning his slow climb to the Major Leagues.
This was the same year the Tigers drafted outfielder Derek Hill in the first round, 23rd overall, and he soon became Castro’s teammate in the Gulf Coast League.
Castro and Hill hit it off and were “super close from the beginning.” During that time, Castro, who’s from Caracas, Venezuela, decided that he wanted to spend more time working on his English.
Early on, grabbing a meal before or after a game played a big part in that. Hill would pull out a translator app on his iPhone and suggest hitting a restaurant. When they got there, it would be Castro’s turn on the app.
“We’d go in, and then I’d type in like, ‘Can you tell this to the waitress,’” Castro explained. “That’s how we got started.”
Speaking with the media on Tuesday prior to the Blue Jays’ series opener in Boston, Castro thought back to other experiences that helped him with the language early on. Now 26, the charismatic reliever pointed back to his late teens and early 20s with the Tigers' organization, where he spent nearly a decade after signing in 2011.
“I wanted to hang out with my American friends and my Canadian friends, so let’s try to get more familiar with the language,” Castro said. “I talked to the teacher, and she recommended I listen to more music in English, to go out to the movie theater, watch movies with English subtitles. All of that and hanging out more with Derek and my American friends made it work.”
Fast forward to 2019 -- following a strong outing with Double-A Erie, Castro was asked for a postgame interview. He sought out the team’s translator but some of his teammates, including Hill, encouraged him to conduct the interview in English, telling him that he was ready. They were right, and he did.
Castro’s confidence is evident on the field this season, coming off an excellent Spring Training. He’s now made two scoreless appearances for the Blue Jays since being added to the roster and, given the injuries on this roster, he’ll have every opportunity to stick around. That confidence, he says, comes from the trust and belief that the Blue Jays have shown in him, encouraging him to be himself on the mound.
“They let me throw some pitches that I wasn’t able to in my old organization. They trust me. I think that’s the most important part,” Castro said.
That means more sliders. Coming up through the Minor Leagues, Castro threw a 12-6 curveball, but he recognized recently -- with some help from Rafael Dolis -- that a slider would fit his repertoire better. This is because his fastball has a natural cutting action, so a slider creates more deception than a curveball, which had a different motion.
“They asked me to throw it more, and it’s been paying off,” Castro said. “During the whole of Spring Training, that was my first-strike pitch and my finishing pitch. The fastball was to surprise [hitters] every once in a while, but my slider? Let it go.”
Zeuch the latest pitcher to hit IL
Prior to the opener in Boston, the Blue Jays placed right-hander T.J. Zeuch on the 10-day injured list with right shoulder tendinitis. The right-hander has posted a 6.75 ERA over 12 innings this season, including five home runs allowed and seven walks with six strikeouts.
Zeuch made two starts and two relief appearances this month, and that swingman role has become more important as the Blue Jays deal with a plethora of injuries to their rotation and bullpen. Arms like Joel Payamps, Trent Thornton and Anthony Kay will now be counted on for multi-inning outings, but with each arm that goes down, the Blue Jays will need to be more creative and reach deeper into their depth pool.
Injured pitchers on the 40-man roster now include: Nate Pearson, Thomas Hatch, Ross Stripling, Zeuch, Patrick Murphy (60-day IL), Julian Merryweather, Jordan Romano, Tyler Chatwood and Kirby Yates (60-day IL).