Castro hopes to show off sharpened tools in big leagues

August 10th, 2022

PHOENIX -- Rodolfo Castro walked into the visiting clubhouse at Chase Field on Tuesday afternoon and rejoined his Pirates teammates. The 23-year-old’s name was penciled into the lineup as the starting second baseman in the No. 6 hole.

Then, Castro put on a black-and-gold Pittsburgh jersey for the first time since June 4. But that was something he had thought about doing plenty while spending the past two months with Triple-A Indianapolis. He wanted to be back here, and it’s the reason he worked so hard to improve in all areas of his game.

“I think the biggest motivation was that taste of the big leagues,” Castro said through an interpreter before Tuesday’s game. “That keeps me alive, that keeps me motivated, that keeps me inspired, that keeps me working hard. That’s everyone’s goal.”

Castro was hitless in his return to the Bucs, going 0-for-3 with a walk in a 6-4 loss to the D-backs. He also struggled in his two previous stints with Pittsburgh -- in 2021, he posted a .198/.258/.395 slash line in 31 games; earlier in ’22, he batted .197/.269/.296 in 21 games.

But Castro is confident that he can make a bigger impact this time. Upon his demotion to Indianapolis in June, he not only wanted to “sharpen” all of his baseball tools, but he also wanted to fortify his “mental strength,” to help him bounce back from any slumps he may endure or errors he may commit.

“No matter how quick the game gets or what situation I may be going through, just that I’m mentally strong enough to continue and not allow those things to discourage me or to distract me from the rest of the game,” Castro said.

So, why did the Pirates decide now was the time to give Castro another big league opportunity?

For one, Castro was raking of late. Over his last 15 games for Indianapolis, he went 21-for-65 (.323) with seven extra-base hits (including three homers) and eight RBIs. He also had a 10-game hitting streak before an 0-for-4 showing on Sunday, his final game before being called up.

It was also an opportune time, given Pittsburgh’s upcoming schedule. The Bucs faced left-hander Tommy Henry on Tuesday, with another matchup against a D-backs southpaw (Madison Bumgarner) on Wednesday. If the Giants’ rotation stays in turn, then the Pirates could face a pair of lefties (Carlos Rodón and Alex Wood) this weekend in San Francisco.

Castro is a switch-hitter, but he fares better against left-handed pitching. Through his first 74 games in the Majors, he had a .704 OPS in 55 plate appearances against lefties and a .570 OPS in 116 plate appearances vs. righties.

“We’re getting four left-handers in the next six games, and I think that was something that stood out,” manager Derek Shelton said. “[Castro] had been down there, he had been playing with energy.”

In Triple-A this year, Castro has spent most of his time at either third base (32 games) or shortstop (29). But the Pirates are set at those positions with Ke’Bryan Hayes and Oneil Cruz, respectively. So Castro will get most of his playing time at second base, where he’s played 15 Triple-A games and four MLB contests this season.

While Castro and Cruz played together at various levels in the Minors, they had never been on the Pirates’ roster at the same time until now.

“This is something we’ve been discussing and dreaming about for a very long time,” Castro said. “I’ve been dying to be up here with him and to be able to give the fans what they want, whether it’s double plays, whether it’s big hits together.”

The duo didn’t turn two at any point Tuesday, but there was a brief glimpse of their potential together. In the fourth inning, Castro drew a two-out walk and moved to third on a single by Cruz, who was in the spot behind Castro in the order.

Cruz has already showcased his impressive skillset over his first 44 games in the Majors. Now, Castro will look to do the same, despite his previous big league struggles. If both reach their full potential, they could form a strong up-the-middle duo for the Pirates into the future.

“Throughout my life from an early age, I’ve been able to recognize that it’s those challenging moments, it’s those hard times, that really help you grow if you maximize the learning from them,” Castro said. “For me, I think that’s my biggest motivation -- to continue growing, no matter the challenges I’ve faced up here.”