By: Will Burchfield

Nicholas Castellanos bristles at the notion that Miguel Cabrera, who slugged 38 home runs and racked up 108 RBI in 2016, is coming off a down season.

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“That’s not an off year. 38 home runs and 100 RBI is not an off year for anybody. How many people are doing that in the Major Leagues?” Castellanos told the Jamie and Stoney Show on 97.1 The Ticket. “But that just speaks to how good he is.”

So does this: “He passed Mickey Mantle in RBIs last year and he has six years left on his contract,” Castellanos said. “Try to wrap your head around that.”

Castellanos, 25, is coming off a strong season himself. The Tigers third baseman hit .285 with an .827 OPS and a career-high 18 home runs despite missing significant time with a broken bone in his left hand. He looked slated to move up the lineup and hit second this year, but the loss of J.D. Martinez to start the season has manager Brad Ausmus rethinking things.

“It definitely changes it, because now you have to [ask], ‘Is your lineup shortened by hitting Nick second? Is it deeper if he hits fifth or sixth?’ I haven’t come to a decision as to what I’m going to do,” Ausmus told reporters earlier this week.

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Castellanos, for his part, hopes the skipper sticks to his original plan.

“I really would like to hit second just because I’d like the opportunity to get that many more at-bats, and to be able to hit in front of Miguel would be a pretty neat thing to do,” he said. “But at the same time, it’s not my job to be the manager. It’s just my job to play the best I can wherever I’m playing.”

Castellanos has spent the bulk of his career hitting fifth, sixth and seventh in what’s always been a deep Tigers lineup. If bumped up into the two hole, one spot ahead of Cabrera, he suggested his approach would change.

“You basically want to unlock Miguel, so to speak. You have to see how many pitches (Ian) Kinsler saw, you have to take into account how the pitcher is throwing – how’s he doing, what’s the flow of the game – because the last thing you want Miggy to do is go up there and have to see a pitch or something to give our pitcher more rest. That’s our job, really, to just go up there and have great at-bats, get on base for Miguel and let him do his thing,” said Castellanos.

With Martinez likely sidelined for the first month, the Tigers are hoping Castellanos can help pick up the slack. If his spring training results are any indication – .375 average, 1.158 OPS over 20 games – that should’t be a problem.

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“It’s been going well,” he said. “Really I just feel like I’m building off of last year and continuing to make the strides to move forward as a better baseball player. I don’t really think it’s one thing, one iota of information that I found out that is all of a sudden allowing me to have success. I think it’s just the gradual maturity and the process of being a Major League baseball player.”