TORONTO -- Harold Castro’s job is to be ready to play anywhere – shortstop, second base, outfield, even pitcher. On Friday, he played the hero.
It was one swing off the bench. But on a day when Tyler Alexander dueled with former Tiger Robbie Ray, and Zack Short started three inning-ending double plays at shortstop, that swing was all the Tigers needed from Castro, whose RBI single fueled a go-ahead three-run 10th inning for a 4-1 win over the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.
It was a short night from the versatile Castro, whose efforts consisted of one hit off one pitch, and one trip around the bases. His smile was just as big.
“Amazing,” he said. “To help your team win with one swing, that feels amazing to me.”
It was just as big of a night to appreciate what Castro does, both in the field and at the plate.
The Tigers have a history with versatile players who can jump in anywhere. Detroit has had two players in its history who have played nine positions in a game -- Shane Halter in 2000, then Andrew Romine in ‘17. Don Kelly became a cult figure in Detroit for his ability to play anywhere and deliver key hits, including the opening home run in Game 5 of the 2011 American League Division Series at Yankee Stadium.
Castro doesn’t have that status yet, but maybe he should. He came up at the start of the Tigers’ rebuild -- at the end of his eighth season in the Tigers’ system -- making his Major League debut in late September when the injury-riddled Tigers needed an extra callup for the final week of the 2018 season. He hit .291 on a Tigers team that lost 114 games in ‘19, but seemed destined for the Minor Leagues under a new manager this spring, a likely casualty of the Tigers’ influx of signings.
But the more A.J. Hinch used Castro in Spring Training, the more useful he found him to be. For a manager who places value on versatility, Hinch admittedly fell in love with Castro, who made the Opening Day roster over slugger Renato Núñez.
Castro has started everywhere but right field and catcher for Hinch, who listed him as an emergency catcher if the Tigers need somebody to step in late in a game. Castro has pitched in three games this year, more than Romine did in any of his seasons in Detroit, and more than Kelly did his entire career. In fact, no Tigers position player has pitched that often in a season in recent memory.
Friday wasn’t a chance for Castro to start, not against the lefty Ray. On days like this, he says, his in-game work is usually the same.
“Every time in the fifth inning, I’m going inside to the cage or whatever they have,” Castro said. “I take a couple swings. I throw a little bit, too, just in case I have to play defense.”
As Friday’s game unfolded, the opportunity became clearer for Hinch. Castro faced then-Rays starter Trevor Richards in 2019 and had an opposite-field home run to go with an infield single. Once Richards came on for the 10th inning, Castro’s bat became a commodity, but his memory was just as key.
“I was thinking about the changeup,” Castro said, “because he’d pitched me before with the changeup.”
Willi Castro began the 10th inning on second base but seemed stuck there after Richards fanned Daz Cameron and Short. On came Harold Castro to hit for Grayson Greiner, which brought a mound visit.
“As soon as I see the coach go to him, I was thinking that maybe he said [I] like to swing at the first pitch,” Castro said.
Richards threw the changeup, but threw it off the plate. Castro swung at it, but connected, flaring it into short left field.
“It’s just a good job of coming off [the bench] and not trying to do too much,” Hinch said.
The top of the Tigers order followed with similar approaches. Robbie Grossman walked before Jonathan Schoop and Jeimer Candelario hit back-to-back RBI singles for add-on runs.
On a night when the Tigers’ only extra-base hit was a hustle double from Núñez, they beat a Blue Jays team known for slugging on their home turf.
For seven innings, Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s 425-foot homer off Alexander was the lone run of the game. Ray not only held Miguel Cabrera homerless -- and keeping him at 499 -- he held the Tigers to five singles over his eight innings. The Tigers tied it by turning Short’s leadoff single in the eighth into a dose of small ball, bunting him over to second before he stole third base. Grossman couldn’t get Short home with one out, but Ray’s ensuing wild pitch to Schoop did.