By Will Burchfield @Burchie_kid
Nick Castellanos couldn’t get his uniform on fast enough. He had just arrived in the Tigers’ clubhouse after flying in from Florida and he was hoping to take his first big-league at bat in over seven weeks.
It was the bottom of the seventh and his team was leading 9-0. Castellanos had a good feeling that Brad Ausmus would let him enter the game as a pinch-hitter.
“I was getting undressed and dressed as fast as I could,” he said.
He made it to the dugout, said his hellos and then circled back to the manager to make his request.
“I told him we were trying to win a game,” Ausmus replied.
He was kidding, of course.
An inning later, Castellanos stepped into the batter’s box in place of Ian Kinsler and lashed a double down the left-field line, the culmination of a long, trying journey back to the big-leagues. He had been sidelined since Aug. 6 with a broken bone in his left hand.
“I’m happy that today happened,” Castellanos said. “I’m happy I’m talking to you guys (the media), and I’m happy that I have a chance to help this team win for the next five days.”
Between Detroit’s 12-0 win over Cleveland on Tuesday night and Baltimore’s loss to Toronto, the Tigers are just 1 game behind the Orioles for the second A.L. wild card. They have two games remaining against the Indians and three against the Atlanta Braves.
They’re hoping Castellanos can help push them over the top.
The 24-year-old was in the midst of a career year when he went down, hitting .286 with 18 home runs and 56 RBI. In all likelihood, he’ll take over at third base and slide into his customary six-spot in the batting order.
“Hopefully I’m playing third but I’m not the manager,” Castellanos said. “Whether I’m pinch-hitting off the bench or playing third, it doesn’t matter. Whatever I can do to help this team win because like I said, these next five games are pretty important.”
Ausmus indicated Castellanos will get his wish.
“He looked good. Haven’t done the lineup yet but there’s a good chance he’ll be in there (on Wednesday),” the skipper said.
Castellanos had been rehabbing and playing in Instructional League games at the Tigers’ spring training facility in Lakeland, Fla. After playing in back-to-back games over the weekend without suffering a setback, he knew he was ready.
“It was that Saturday, the second day in a row where I think my timing clicked, my hand felt a little bit better,” Castellanos said. “Saturday was just kind of the turning point when everything started coming together for me.”
Castellanos said he enjoyed his time in Florida, surrounded by hard-working prospects who reminded him of his younger self.
“All those guys are coming off good years and they’re willing to work and they’re all busting their tails. It was fun to wake up and get back there and be at Instructs where I was in 2010 and 2011 and kind of get back to my roots. I loved being down there with those guys.
“That being said,” Castellanos smiled, “I’m much happier to be in this locker room.”
The inability to help his team had left him with a shaken psyche.
“It’s a huge knock to kind of your confidence, it’s a huge knock to kind of just me as a baseball player – and that’s kind of weird to say, but that was the first time ever for an extended period of time that I was unable to compete at a high level at the sport that I love.
“So that was a lot that I had to deal with and kind of cope with and it was definitely a tough battle, not only with my hand but internally just because I wanted to be out there,” Castellanos said.
Having conquered one battle, he is set to enter another.