Davey Martinez and Starlin Castro got to know one another well during the season the two spent together in Chicago in 2015, while Martinez served as the Cubs’ bench coach under Joe Maddon, and Castro was the shortstop in the Windy City.
Martinez and the 29-year-old, 10-year veteran are reuniting in the nation’s capital this year, after Castro signed a 2-year/$12M contract with the defending World Series champions, at least in part, he’s said, because of who is on the bench in D.C.
With all the talk of the chemistry last year’s team had, which allowed them to stick together even after they started the season 19-31, and rally to not only make the postseason, but win it all, Martinez was asked on Sunday afternoon in West Palm Beach, FL how he thinks Castro will fit in in the clubhouse with Washington.
“Let’s just put it this way, he’ll fit right in with our group,” Martinez said.
“He’s outgoing, he’s funny, but he works. I often say this, he works really hard at all aspects of his game. He really does. You look at him, but he’s a tremendous worker, he wants to get better. Obviously we saw that last year when he all of a sudden turned around the second-half of the season and decided himself to say, ‘Hey, I’m not going to hit anymore ground balls. I’m going to change my swing a little bit and try to get the ball in the air, and he had a monster second half, so hopefully him and [Hitting Coach Kevin Long] have talked about that and he’ll continue to do that.”
Castro turned things around after putting up a .245/.272/.336 line in a tough first half of the season with the Marlins last summer, with a .302/.334/.558 second-half for a club that was not in the running for a postseason spot.
The power picked up after the adjustments he made at the plate, with the infielder hitting 19 of his 31 doubles and 16 of his 22 home runs last season over 74 games and 305 plate appearances in the second half, after he’d hit 12 doubles and six home runs in 88 games and 371 PAs before the All-Star Break.
“We did see a change in him,” GM Mike Rizzo said after Castro signed. “We saw him play a million times when we play Miami in Spring Training, and we play them in the season a lot. We did see a change at the back end of it. Kevin Long and I discussed it, we’ve talked about Starlin, and Davey recognized it, and when Davey and I talked about bringing him on, Davey had him, he loves him and he thinks that he’s got a great chance to take off and be really good for us.”
With Castro’s arrival in West Palm Beach this weekend, he and Martinez had a chance to get reacquainted, and the manager and Castro’s new club got an up close look at the player the Nationals expect to handle second base this season.
“Saw Starlin this morning and he just made a comment, he said, ‘We’re back!’ because I’ve had him before,” Martinez told reporters, “and I said, ‘We are, here we are.’ And I said, ‘Good to see you.’ And he looks great. And I kept telling everybody, I said, with Starlin when he comes up close and personal he’s bigger than you think. And everybody said, ‘Oh my god, he’s big.’ And I said, ‘Yeah. He’s a big tall kid.’ Remember, he’s 29 years old, he’s got a lot of baseball yet, and I think he finally realized who he can be, so I’m excited to see him this Spring and get him out there, and let him play some second base, because he’s one guy that you put his name in the lineup, he doesn’t care where he hits or what he does and he just goes and plays.”
Castro, who’s played third and short in addition to second in his career, said on Sunday that he doesn’t care where he’s asked to play, and he’ll be ready for whatever he’s asked to do.
“I’m going to prepare,” Castro said. “If you want me to play at third, if you want me to play at second. I just expect to be there, to try to keep myself healthy, and just play hard and do my best every day.”
Walking into the clubhouse with his fourth major league team this weekend, Castro said, he immediately felt at home.
“I just come in here and try to do my thing, and right when I came in here the first time, they [gave] a very good welcome to me,” he said. “I just saw Davey right when I was walking in, and I feel like this is my home. I played with him, he was the bench coach when I played with the Cubs, so I know him, and I know a lot of guys here. I just try to come in here and do my thing and try to know everybody.”
Told of his manager’s comments about how well he expects he’ll to fit into the clubhouse, Castro said the way he prepares and plays helps him fit in anywhere.
“I think you’re going to see I’m one of the guys that I come in here to the ballpark to play every day, to do my best, to help the team, to help the young guys,” Castro explained.
“I’m not going to make any problems, I’m not going to bring any negative things, I’m just going to be a positive guy every day no matter what.”
Playing for his former bench coach again, Castro said, just adds additional motivation for him to do well and help his new club.
“I’m just excited to be with him because we’ve got a really good relationship with the Cubs. He [wasn’t] the manager over there, but I think it was really when I see him when we played against him when I was with the Marlins, and we always say, ‘Hi,’ and before he got the [Nats’ manager’s job] we always talked like, ‘When you get a manager’s [job] I just want to have the opportunity to play with you and that’s happened.”