Detroit — Nick Castellanos played in his 151st game Sunday. That’s 13 more than Jeimer Candelario, who is second on the Tigers’ games played list.
His 648 plate appearances entering Sunday are 60 more than any other Tigers player.
And yet, he looks as fresh as he did when the Tigers broke camp in March.
“It’s just figuring out how my body works,” Castellanos shrugged when the topic was brought up before the game. “It’s just really making a conscious effort every day to not let myself deteriorate. It’s just being more disciplined.”
Castellanos is 26 and putting the wraps on his fifth full season in the major leagues. And by putting the wraps on it, we mean he’s finishing with a flourish. He is hitting .405 in 20 games this month, the most among American League hitters who have played at least 15 games.
He has rapped nine doubles, a triple, three home runs and is slugging .676 — third in the American League this month. His OPS of 1.146 is fifth best in the American League.
“That tells why I don’t take him out,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He’s our one really solid hitter in the lineup who’s been consistent all year long. And he told me at the beginning that he hates off-days. He wants to play every day. His days off have been DH days.
“He comes to play. He’s learned a lot in right field and he’s hot right now. I don’t know where we would be without that guy. He’s carried us a lot of different times.”
Consistency has been elusive for Castellanos, until this season. He’s essentially had one bad month — hitting .218 in July. Since April 21, his average never has dipped below .283. That was on Aug. 11. Since then, he’s raked — .366/.438/.606 with a 1.04 OPS.
He ranks in the top 15 in the American League in all the slash-line categories: batting average (.303, eighth), on-base percentage (.360, 15th), slugging (.507, 12th) and OPS (.866, 11th). All of those are career-best. His 45 doubles are second most in the American League.
He has posted 55 multiple-hit games and 19 games of three hits or more, which is tied for the most in the American League.
“It’s just experience, more at-bats,” Gardenhire said. “We’re always talking about the number of at-bats it takes in this league to get a feel for who you are and what you can do. He’s in what, his fifth year? It doesn’t seem like it, he’s still so young. But he’s getting to that number of at-bats where he’s got it figured out.”
Castellanos took, 2,952 plate appearances into the Comerica Park finale Sunday.
“He’s seen enough pitches and enough pitchers now,” Gardenhire said. “That’s when you start figuring out if a guy can or he can’t. Nicky is there. We know he can.”
Something to play for
The Tigers finish the season with three games in Milwaukee and the Brewers are very much still in playoff-chase mode. Entering Sunday, their magic number to clinch a playoff spot was five. The number to clinch home field in the wild-card game was six. And, they were just 2.5 games behind the Cubs in the division race.
So, the Tigers could mess them up a bit.
“We will definitely try to put forth a team that’s going to give them hell,” Gardenhire said. “That’s just respecting the game. I don’t plan on laying down if we’re in that situation.
“Our players will want to be a part of that, too. It’ll be good experience for them.”
Around the horn
The Tigers held center fielder JaCoby Jones out of the lineup Sunday. He aggravated his right shoulder with a dive and hard landing on a ball hit by Whit Merrifield in the first inning. Jones ran the ball down on the warning track in right-center but he didn’t complete the process. The ball came loose when he banged the ground.
DETROIT — Michael Fulmer is seeking a second opinion after an MRI showed possible damage to the right-hander’s meniscus.
Manager Ron Gardenhire gave that update on Fulmer’s status before Monday night’s game against Minnesota. Fulmer was removed after five pitches Saturday at Cleveland. He tweaked his right knee while trying to field a bunt attempt.
Fulmer, the 2016 AL Rookie of the Year, is 3-12 with a 4.69 ERA this season. He has had health issues the past couple years, spending time on the disabled list with elbow and oblique problems.
Liriano (5-10) allowed three runs on five hits and two walks across seven innings to earn the win Sunday against Cleveland. He struck out seven.
Liriano allowed a run on three hits in the first inning before the home team plated another pair on two hits and two walks in the fourth. He settled down after that point and only allowed one other hitter to reach via a hit batsman the rest of the way. Liriano has now delivered back-to-back quality starts, striking out 14 and allowing just three earned runs across 13 innings in that span. The left-hander will make his next start Friday against the Royals.
Jose Iglesias’ season officially came to an end Friday when the Tigers transferred him to the 60-day disabled list with a lower abdominal strain. If this is the end of his career in Detroit, it will be remembered for incredible plays alongside untapped potential — but maybe it shouldn’t be the end quite yet.
The Red Sox sent Iglesias to Detroit in a three-way trade involving the White Sox at the non-waiver trade deadline in 2013. It didn’t take long for the young shortstop to make an impression.
On Aug. 12 he ran up on a slow bouncer off the broken bat of White Sox catcher Josh Phegley, then fielded it one-handed and threw to first as his momentum took him to the ground to get the out. In the fourth game of the ALCS that year, Iglesias reminded his former team what they’d be missing when he ran into left field to grab a popup no one expected him to catch and then nearly turned a double play at second base.
These kinds of highlight-reel plays became commonplace, and made innings the Tigers were in the field every bit as exciting to watch as when they were at bat.
But there was just one problem. For all the apparent wizardry Iglesias could show, he seemed to disappear at times. His advanced defensive stats seemed like they should lead the league for all of his ability.
In 517 innings at shortstop in 2013, he compiled a defensive runs saved figure of zero, compared to the average fielder. He was exactly average. After missing all of 2014 with shin splints, he posted a -3 DRS in 2015 — the year he made an appearance in the All-Star Game and made a seemingly routine (for him) play that wowed his teammates. Even in 2018, a season he seems to be putting things together well, he was just one run better than average by the stat.
Fangraphs’ use of Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) shows him to be consistently above average, but not greatly so. He’s no Andrelton Simmons.
The problem for Iglesias is that his bat isn’t that great and he doesn’t have a lot of power. If he’s not getting hits, his glove is all he’s got. Posting batting averages in the 250s and a career wOBA of .297 keeps him from ever having great value when he’s not turning every play that arrives between second and third base.
This was his walk year. After five years in Detroit, Iglesias could declare free agency after 2018. Quite a few people (myself included) were all but begging Tigers GM Al Avila to trade him. To at least get something. It’s just not as easily said as done, and Iglesias remained a Tiger in the waning days of August up until the time of his injury.
The Tigers should take a long look at bringing him back next year. Iglesias might just do it, too.
He’s peaking at the right time in his career arc. His Fangraphs WAR of 2.6 is a career high, and that’s without the final month of the season. Baseball Reference’s slightly lower WAR of 2.0 is still a career best.
And although Iglesias won’t be the best free agent shortstop available (that’s Manny Machado) he’s near the top of the list.
Still, that’s no guarantee Iglesias will be wowed by an offer like you may have expected a top shortstop to be in the past. Most teams willing to spend the big dollars already have their guy, leaving the have-nots to create the market.
Detroit’s one of the have-nots.
With no real candidate for the job in 2019 — say it with me: don’t rush the rebuild, don’t rush the rebuild, don’t rush the rebuild — the Tigers are almost certain to go with a filler for the shortstop role next year ahead of the expected arrival of whichever prospect decides to break out best. Probably Willi Castro, recent arrival from the Indians and No. 10 in the Tigers’ organization in MLB Pipeline’s rankings, though not a top-10 shortstop prospect among all 30 teams.
The Tigers might find Iglesias’ asking price, even diminished, to be a little high still, but at least they know what to expect if they can get him to come back for one season. They should try to get that deal done, but probably shouldn’t try too hard.
If this really is the end of the line for Iglesias in Detroit, at least fans had a few years to enjoy a fun shortstop with mobility and agility — that’s something they haven’t been able to say in a long, long time.
It was fun, even if a bit frustrating.
Kurt Mensching is a freelance writer.
Happy Monday, dear reader. I spent the bulk of my Saturday evening watching The Ohio State University football team put a hurtin’ on Texas Christian and pondering some of life’s bigger questions; if a bad team wins a series against the division leader in September does it mean anything? What is it like to watch Dawel Lugo take a walk? How exactly does one wrap a beer around his or her lips?
These questions remain unanswered, but one thing I did learn this weekend is that Jim Adduci is making a push to make “The Deuce” a household name outside of what’s going on at HBO. Let’s check in on what else is going on around the organization.
The odds are pretty good that we’ve seen the last pitching Michael Fulmer is going to do for the Detroit Tigers in 2018. Fulmer exited Saturday’s contest early after tweaking his knee, and is scheduled to undergo an MRI to determine the severity of his injury. A significant issue would not only put a (merciful?) end to what has been a pretty dismal season for Fulmer, but would continue to color the trade talk that is sure to revolve around the young hurler once again this offseason.
No way, Jose?
When shortstop Jose Iglesias went on the disabled list last week, it not only put an end to his season, but may have signaled the end of his career as a Tiger. What are the odds that he returns to Detroit after this year? Manager Ron Gardenhire remains as opaque as a concrete wall with comments that don’t lend much insight into what the front office might do, though he seems pretty certain it won’t be a more exciting prospect like Willi Castro or Sergio Alcantara.
“Absolutely not,” Gardenhire said. “No way the bosses were going to do that. They’re not ready for this. They don’t think the players are ready and they aren’t going to put them in harm’s way.”
It’s hard to know if the front office has any idea what they are doing in several areas (this one included) so we will have to wait and see. The general consensus is that will depend on the offers he gets once he is on the market. Considering the organization spent the better part of two years with him propped up in the front yard with a ‘For Sale’ sign pinned to his chest and got no callers, there could be a good chance he signs for another year or two to bridge the gap between now and the shortstop of the future. Whoever that is.
This is just a tribute
Cleveland does a lot of things terribly — football, for one. Let us not also forget the desire to let some dude bang a drum for nine innings of a baseball game in a manner that leaves you wanting to scrape your eardrums out of your skull with knitting needles by the fourth inning of most games. But they did one thing well this weekend in honoring Victor Martinez in what was his last time playing in their ballpark.
Martinez got his start in Cleveland and played some great baseball for that organization, and you could tell by his tearful response during the pre-game ceremony that honored his time as an Indian that it meant a lot to him.
Lynn Henning of The Detroit News spends a series of paragraphs reminding Tigers fans that we are soon to see the second player to be named later that Detroit will receive for Mike Fiers. The guy who Detroit ended up unloading in August to the only team interested has put up stats that you should just stay blissfully ignorant of, because he has somehow become [redacted] good at pitching. [Ed.: It’s not that bad. He has a 3.09 ERA in eight starts and is still giving up a bunch of home runs.]
Alas, as Henning reminds us, the Tigers won’t be getting the return for the kind of pitcher Fiers is now, but for what he was when they traded him. In other words, temper those expectations.
Accentuate the positive
If you’re looking for a dose of good news in today’s links, you have found it here. Nicholas Castellanos continues to be a bright spot — at least offensively — for the team this season. Even though he isn’t seeing great pitches to hit, he is still getting things done.
Looking to fresher faces for positive news, recent call-up Spencer Turnbull came in on Friday night and made his debut look easy. In an appearance that didn’t fully represent how completely nervous he was, he set down three Tribe batters on just 11 pitches. Can’t wait to see more of him.
Around the horn
Minor league baseball players exploring a union as they continue to battle low wages. The last great pennant race? Why the CBA should be the province of lawyers.
Baseball is awesome
Never, ever bunt. Never. But, if you are going to bunt, bunt for a double.