The Pittsburgh Pirates finally broke out of their hitting funk and Rodolfo Castro was in the middle of it.
Castro went 2 for 4 with a home run, two runs scored and two RBIs on Wednesday when the Pirates blanked the Tigers 8-0 at Comerica Park in Detroit. The Pirates had scored a total of 22 runs in their previous 14 games, losing 12 of them.
Of course, Castro wasn’t the only reason the Pirates’ offense was able to put up an eight spot against Tigers left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez, who had allowed just two runs in his previous six starts. Austin Hedges – Austin Hedges! – drove in three runs and Bryan Reynolds had three hits.
However, at least for me, Castro’s performance stood out the most if for no other reason than he has been the disappearing man in the Pirates’ lineup over the last week and a half.
Castro played second base and batted sixth. It was his first start since May 8 against the Colorado Rockies at PNC Park, a span of six games.
That has been a significant drop in playing time for someone who had become the de facto starting shortstop after Oneil Cruz broke his left ankle on April 9.
It is understandable that manager Derek Shelton has tried different lineup combinations over the last two weeks to try to shake his team out of its slump. Things have gone downhill quickly for the Pirates since their surprising 20-8 start.
However, benching Castro does not make a lot of sense for a team that has been offensively challenged since the beginning of May.
Castro is hitting .260/.366/.452 with five home runs in 39 games this season. His 124 OPS+ means he is producing at a rate 24% higher than the major-league average. It is hard to argue with that.
Switch-hitting middle infielders with power are rare. Why the Pirates would not take advantage of having that type of player in their lineup is head-scratching.
Furthermore, Castro is just 23 years old. He is far from a finished product, despite having spent parts of three seasons in the major leagues.
Castro needs to gain more experience to continue refining his game. He would seemingly benefit much more by getting consistent at-bats than sitting on the bench.
One of the knocks on Castro as a hitter is the disparity in his performance between hitting from the right side and the left side. He is slashing .326/.418/.717 and all five homers in 55 plate appearances against left-handers and .207/.324/.241 in 68 trips to the plate versus right-handers.
The splits are significant, obviously.
Yet Castro has amassed just 494 career plate appearances in the major leagues, so it’s too soon to label him as a platoon player. If the Pirates are that concerned about Castro’s long-term ability to hit right-handers, maybe they should have him quit switch-hitting and bat exclusively right-handed.
It’s become obvious the Pirates don’t think Castro can play shortstop regularly at the major league level. He hasn’t made a start there since May 3.
The Pirates can’t really be faulted for coming to that conclusion. Castro has made six errors and is minus-5 defensive runs saved in 19 games at shortstop this season.
However, Castro can hit and needs to be in the lineup on a regular basis rather than be pushed further down the bench.