Castellanos working to clean up defense

Castellanos working to clean up defense

KANSAS CITY -- Nicholas Castellanos and his manager both said he wasn't avoiding a throw across the infield so much as he was trying for the out in front of him when he made the unusual decision to start a rundown between second and third base rather than take the out at first base with two outs in the fifth inning Tuesday.

"He figured it would be easier to get him rather than throw the ball across the diamond, I guess," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "Generally you just get the force at first, but it's not unheard of for that to happen, especially if you feel the guy's right next to you as you're fielding. If he's right next to you, it's easier to tag the runner than throw the ball."

That said, it took a throw to second baseman Dixon Machado and an alert reaction from shortstop Jose Iglesias to cover third base and get the out. It ended up not being that easy, which made the play stand out.

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The throwing arm is fine, Castellanos and Ausmus said. So, too, is Castellano's confidence, even while his execution has been shaky.

"It's all connected, man," Castellanos said Wednesday. "We're all humans. We're not robots."

He has spent the tail end of this road trip doing fielding drills with defensive coordinator Matt Martin. Castellanos has gone to his knees on the outfield grass and tried to field comebackers from Martin, designed to test him at various angles and side to side. He has taken his usual diet of ground balls in pregame work.

Even so, the errors have been piling up lately, four on this trip to push him to 11 on the season, tied with White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson for most in the Majors at any position. Other plays that haven't been ruled errors could have been handled better, such as Whit Merrifield's infield single Tuesday on a chopper that Castellanos stayed back to field rather than charge. He was solid in fundamentals, but slow in execution.

"He's got to come get the ball a little quicker," Ausmus said. "The throw was good. Everything was good once he caught it. But you've got to come get it a little quicker."

The advanced metrics, as in past years, aren't looking good. Castellanos' minus-9 Defensive Runs Saved isn't far off his negative-11 rating for all of last year. He's just 2-for-7 on plays with a 40-60 percent expected conversion rate, according to Fangraphs, and 4-for-7 on likely plays at a 60-90 percent rate. Both are small samples but early signs of concern.

Castellanos gets it. He also gets that his defense has been back in the spotlight lately. But he believes that defense, like hitting, can go in tears and slumps, no matter how much work he puts in, and that he's a better defender than he was last season.

"It's all part of it," Castellanos said. "Every temporary struggle that somebody goes through, you guys have to write about it. But at the end of the day, it's only temporary."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.