While acknowledging that there was some nervousness as he got to know his new team at Spring Training, veteran infielder Starlin Castro said back in February that he immediately felt at home in the Washington Nationals’ clubhouse when he arrived in West Palm Beach, FL after signing a 2-year/$12M free agent deal with the defending World Series champions.
“I know a lot of players,” Castro explained. “We played against them, and a couple of guys I played with, and I’ve been in the league a while and I know a lot of guys. It’s a little bit scary when you’re coming to a new place. I feel a little bit scared, but now I talk with everybody, how I’m asking everybody ... I feel like this is my house.”
Castro, of course, was also familiar with the Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez, who was the bench coach in Chicago when the infielder played on the North Side.
“He was the bench coach when I played with the Cubs,” Castro said.
“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.”
Castro, a 10-year veteran, just turned 30 back on March 24th, so he’s seen and picked up a lot in his career, while still being relatively young.
“I’ve been in the league a while,” he said. “I feel like a young guy too, as a veteran too. I feel both because I know a lot of things about baseball, I’ve played a lot. I’m still young, but like I said, I’m really happy to be here, I think this is a really good group.”
Upon arriving at Spring Training with his new team, Castro told MASN that he had interest in a potential reunion with Martinez as soon as he became a free agent this past winter.
“First thing that I told my agent, I just said, ‘Hey, if the Nationals call or say something, let me know right away because I’m going to think about it right away,” Castro recalled.
“We might get another ring.”
Castro told Martinez previously that once he became a manager, which he knew he would, he wanted to play for him at some point.
“That’s a guy who knows,” Castro explained.
“He played before he [became] a manager or coach. We had a really good relationship with the Cubs. I always told him, ‘Hey, [when] you’re a manager, I’m going to play with you.’”
The admiration, as Martinez said early this Spring, is mutual.
“He’s outgoing, he’s funny, but he works,” the skipper said. “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 any more 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.”
In his second season in Miami in 2019, Castro posted a .245/.272/.336 line in a tough first half, but bounced back with a .302/.334/.558 line in the second half on a club that wasn’t going anywhere in terms of a postseason spot.
He hit 19 of his 31 doubles and 16 of his 22 home runs last season over 74 games and 305 plate appearances in the so-called second half, after he hit 12 doubles and six home runs over 88 games and 371 PAs before the All-Star Break.
“We did see a change in him,” GM Mike Rizzo said shortly after Castro signed on in D.C. in January.
“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.”
“I think he figured out his swing last year,” Long added, “and sometimes it’s never too late to do that. He had a terrific second half, and I’ll kind of mow through that video and take a look at what I see.
“I think we just kind of have to kind of keep him there, but certainly what he did and the way he swung the bat, it’s going to help our offense.”