Twelve of the 25 pitches Toronto Blue Jays’ starter Hyun-Jun Ryu threw in the first inning of this past Thursday’s matchup with the Washington Nationals came in a two-out at bat with the Nats’ three-hole hitter, Starlin Castro. It ended with a single on the 12th offering, an 84 MPH 3-2 slider from Ryu.
Castro ended up going 4 for 5 with three singles, a double, two runs scored, and a swinging strikeout, with the K in his final plate appearance in what ended up a 6-4 win.
Ryu gave up three of Castro’s hits, nine total on the day, and five runs, and he was up to 93 pitches after five when he was lifted.
“He goes in there, and it was really hot. To get Ryu to throw that many pitches, was good, was huge,” manager Davey Martinez told reporters when he spoke after the Nats’ win.
“But he can do that, I’ve seen him before stand up there and foul balls, good pitches, off, and foul them off, foul them off, and all of a sudden hit a rope somewhere.
“He had a great day today, and I expect him to swing the bat like he swung today. Like I said, he hits line drives all over the field and today you saw that.”
Castro, 30, who signed a 2-year/$12M deal with the Nationals this past winter, said the initial at bat against Ryu set him up for what followed.
“It kind of helped me a lot,” he explained. “That’s one of the at bats that you really have to win, because especially 3-2, you’ve seen every thing that he’s got, and I’m just thinking middle, just thinking middle, try not to do too much. The fastballs he threw me today, he threw me only two fastballs, and they say 88 and 90.
“I’m just thinking middle, and my heart is really getting hard because I say, ‘You got to win.‘“
“‘You got to get a hit or you got to walk,’” Castro continued, “‘... because it’s a lot of pitches and you’ve seen everything,’ and then finally the good result happened the right way.”
Martinez and Castro have history from their time together in Chicago in 2015, and the Nats’ skipper knows what his second baseman can do.
“I’ve said this before, Starlin, his bat to ball skills are really good. He can put the [bat] on the [ball],” Martinez said.
Castro said the reunion was a welcome one, and a big reason he signed on in D.C. as a free agent.
“It’s kind of like one of the teams that every player is looking for, the main guy trusts you, the main guy believes in you, you know, and ... I’ve been with Davey with the Cubs.
“We have a really good relationship, and no matter what he just knows that I’m going to get to the field and just do my best every day.”
Castro’s four-hit game left him 9 for 25 (.360/.385/.520) in seven games, with two doubles and a triple for the 3-4 club.
It’s a good start to an odd season, and Castro, who knew Martinez before he got to D.C., has been able to get to know about his new teammates, in Spring Training, Spring Training 2.0, and now the 60-game regular season.
“It’s kind of weird,” Castro acknowledged. “It’s kind of really weird, but the good thing is we got what like two weeks, three weeks in Spring Training to meet each other, to meet all the guys before all these things get crazy. We keep talking. I try to keep getting to know all the guys, what they like, how they prepare.
“They had a really good season last year, so I just continue learning from them and try to learn as much as I can.”
Having four days off after a four-hit game is not ideal, of course, Castro and his teammates know they can’t control that.
“If we can control, and we can play tomorrow,” he said, “... we can play Saturday. We can’t control but, it’s tough. But we — as a team, we get our mind right, and we get it, Tuesday, that’s the next game.”
“The schedule is going to change. We don’t know if we’re going to play straight — if we’re going to get 15 days of playing every day, we don’t know that.
“It’s kind of like mentally prepare so those moments don’t get you,” the 11-year veteran said.
“Just be ready, no matter what happens, we’re prepared to play and then we’re ready.”