Castellanos determined to play his way out of slump

April 24th, 2024

CINCINNATI -- has tried solving this grueling puzzle before.

It feels impossible at one moment then, voila, the answer comes.

“It could be a [butt]-out flare or whatever,” he said after Tuesday night’s 8-1 loss to the Reds at Great American Ball Park. “Just something to get the juices going. Then all of a sudden, next thing you know, you're rolling.”

Castellanos went 0-for-4 on Tuesday, but he was far from the biggest reason why the Phillies snapped a seven-game winning streak. Cristopher Sánchez did not have a feel for his changeup, which limited him to a season-low three innings. Three Phillies’ errors led to four unearned runs. The bottom three hitters in the Phillies' lineup walked to load the bases with nobody out in the fifth, but the top three hitters were retired to end the inning.

But Castellanos sticks out because it is the beginning of the season and he is batting .184 with one triple, seven RBIs and a .452 OPS in 94 plate appearances.

It is the fifth-lowest OPS out of 184 qualified hitters in baseball.

“Everything's harder without results, man,” he said. “Even bleeders that find their holes and you're helping the team. You're on base. Results make everything easier. But I'm happy with my process right now.”

Castellanos tripled on Saturday against the White Sox. It was his first and only extra-base hit of the season.

His big smile at third base said it all.

“I feel like my swing has just been a lot more consistent since then,” he said. “Still, I think since St. Louis, I have been much better [at] thinking less. Just working and working on the same thing. Same key points.”

Like what?

“Same setup,” he said. “Same keys. Not looking too hard for something else. Staying positive. That's pretty much all I can do.”

Castellanos has five hits in 15 at-bats in his last four games. Maybe this is the beginning of the turnaround and nobody knows it yet.

But until he is through the muck, he takes solace in the fact that he has had slumps like this before.

“I know that last year I was pretty much worthless in the month of July,” he said. “You know? I've gone through stretches where I'm out of whack. All of a sudden it clicks. Everybody's like, 'Holy [crap]. What did you figure out?' Nothing. It's just baseball. The highs and lows.”

Castellanos posted a .403 OPS in 104 plate appearances from July 4-Aug. 2, 2023. He followed that with an .840 OPS in his next 105 plate appearances. He posted a .421 OPS in 86 plate appearances from May 25-June 24, 2015, with the Tigers. He followed that with an .960 OPS in his next 85.

“He’s not hitting the way he’s capable of hitting, but I’ve seen him go through this before,” Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowksi said before the game. “I am a strong believer in the back of the bubble gum card. Shoot, he hit 29 homers with 106 RBIs last season. You don’t just lose that. And he’s not too old. It’s not like he’s all of a sudden turned 42 from 30. So, yeah, he’s struggling. I worry any time somebody is struggling but I think he’ll get out of it.”

Phillies manager Rob Thomson has been asked repeatedly over the past couple weeks about giving Castellanos a game or two off to clear his mind.

Each time, Thomson said he wants Castellanos to play his way out of it.

“It gives me confidence in myself to know that he has confidence in me to get out of it,” Castellanos said. “Honestly, that's all I can ask for -- to have the chance to go out and play. Know that doing the right thing and playing the game the right way, the tides will turn. Just like it always has.”

But could a break help? Even the game’s best players sit on occasion.

“I don't know,” Castellanos said. “The competitor in me enjoys the 162-game challenge. I've never played 162 games. That's something I would love to be able to do. He's the manager. The one thing that I can say is physically I've put myself in a great position because my body feels great. Now it's just finding that rhythm. A couple [of] hits to fall. You get some happy-go-lucky energy and baseball becomes a game again instead of something that you're just trying so hard to figure out.”