Castro eyes power surge in stretch run

September 2nd, 2021

DETROIT -- Former teammates of Mariners great Ichiro Suzuki used to talk about how he would crush home runs in batting practice, just to let people know that he could hit for power when he wanted, but his pure hitting was more valuable.

As teed off in batting practice Wednesday afternoon at Comerica Park, manager A.J. Hinch had to wonder if his utility infielder was in the same mold.

"Matt Boyd and I are sitting in left-center field watching Harold hit homer after homer in BP," Hinch recalled after Wednesday's 8-6 win over Oakland. "And I'm like, 'This guy can hit, he keeps the ball in the air. But you watch tonight, he's going to get up and just going to try to slap some singles around.'"

Sure enough, Castro slapped the first pitch from A's starter James Kaprielian through the left side of a drawn-in infield for an opposite-field RBI single.

After a fourth-inning flyout to center, Castro stepped to the plate with two on and nobody out in the sixth against A's reliever Yusmeiro Petit, who had retired all five batters he had faced. When Petit hung a curveball, Castro crushed it into the visiting bullpen.

"That's big-man territory there," Hinch said, "so Boyd has to remind me [in the dugout] of that conversation, that he can hit the ball in the air, hit the ball far when he wants to."

Little did Hinch know that as Castro was taking those swings in batting practice, he had half a mind to become Homerin' Harold going in.

"I said this to, I don't know who, I think it was Niko [Goodrum]," Castro said. "I said, 'I feel like I'm going to hit a home run today.' I was swinging the ball hard in BP."

As the Tigers begin the home stretch of their season, Castro might not be done.

"That's what I'm going to try to do this month," he continued. "I'm going to charge early when I'm hitting, to try to hit the ball hard this last month."

He didn’t waste much time. After a second-inning walk in Thursday afternoon's 8-6 loss against Oakland starter Frankie Montas, Castro teed off on Montas’ first pitch of the fifth inning, sending a 447-foot drive to the top of the center-field shrubs.

It was the longest of Castro’s eight career home runs, the second-longest homer by a Tiger this season (behind Akil Baddoo’s 450-foot homer on April 12 at Houston), and the second-longest homer hit by anybody at Comerica Park this year (behind Byron Buxton’s 451-foot drive for the Twins on April 6). No Tiger had hit as long of a home run at Comerica Park since Jeimer Candelario hit a 448-foot drive on Sept. 22, 2019.

As Castro acknowledged, he adjusts his swing to the situation. His average exit velocity of 88.6 mph entering Thursday is in the bottom half of Tigers players this year, and slightly down from his 89 mph average last season.

Still, Castro can become Homerin' Harold when the opportunity presents itself. He has hit 27 balls this year with exit velocities of 100 mph or higher, more than Niko Goodrum, Victor Reyes, Zack Short, Jake Rogers or Derek Hill.

"Harold will never give up, you know, the hit," Hinch said. "It's not as if he's going to sell out and you're gonna start to see these monster swings. But he can drive the ball. He will pop the ball here or there. But let's not forget that he makes his money being a really good at-bat, bat-to-ball, base-hit artist. When the power comes, then all the better.

"He did show [Wednesday] that he's got plenty of power. But I think Harold having a good at-bat is probably more important than focusing on the power."