Davey Martinez knows Starlin Castro well from the time the two spent together in Chicago, so he was excited about adding the infielder to Washington’s roster last winter, but Castro injured his wrist and needed surgery so he was limited to just 16 games (over which he put up a .267/.302/.450 line) in the first year of his 2-year/$12M deal with the Nationals.
Having the veteran infielder back in the mix in Spring Training, Martinez told reporters on a Zoom call earlier this month, has the manager excited.
“It’s great to have him back,” Martinez said. “I’ve always said this. I’ve known Starlin for a very long time, I was with him in Chicago.
“This guy kind of goes under the radar just a little bit. He’s 30 years old, and he’s got so many hits in the big leagues.
“He’s a guy that you could almost count on in a full season — 175-200 hits. To put him in the middle of our lineup, it’s going to be good. He’s healthy, he’s excited. He looks great.
“He lost a lot of weight, put on some muscle weight.
“He’s moving around pretty good. I talked to him over the winter about being agile, working on his quickness, and he did all that stuff, so I’m looking forward to writing his name in the lineup every day because he’s a guy that never complains, works as hard as anybody, and you can write his name every day in the lineup and he’s happy to go out there and play and play hard.”
Castro played 162 games in a season twice, and has played in 150+ seven times in his 11 major league seasons, (over which he has a 162-game average of 178 hits) so 2020 was particularly frustrating for the soon-to-turn-31-year-old second baseman to be limited to just the 16 games he played in the truncated 2020 COVID campaign.
“It’s really hard. It’s really hard,” Castro, who broke his right wrist last year, said when he spoke to reporters for this first time this spring on Saturday afternoon.
“Because right when that happened with this, with the pandemic, and we have to play 60 games. In my mind I have it right away it’s going to be easy for me because I play 162, 60 games is going to be easy. It’s really frustrating. It was really frustrating for me. Especially, I’m really excited to be in D.C., and really excited to play with the Nationals in Washington. And it’s really hard for me. Really hard when that happened. I got really frustrated.
“I did the surgery, and right away I put in my mind I said if the team makes the playoffs, I’m going to be back.”
The Nationals, of course, didn’t make the postseason last year, and Castro didn’t get a shot to potentially return late, so he has had a lot of time to work and prepare for 2021.
“I started my rehab in like in November, and it started feeling good right away,” Castro said of his offseason work.
“I’ve been doing all this this offseason to try to get back to Spring Training, now I’m here and I feel good.”
He started hitting off a tee in December, and progressed to BP and batting cages in January, but before he began that work he made a trip to see the doctor who performed the surgery on his wrist to get the all-clear to resume regular offseason activities.
“When I started hitting, I just took a flight to Miami to see the doctor who did the surgery and she X-rayed me to check out that everything is all right,” he explained. “And she saw it and the screw that I have in there is exactly perfect, and the crack that I had in the bone is gone.”
Though he did get those 16 games in last summer, Castro said that he doesn’t think that the Nationals and their fans really got to see what he could do in his first season in D.C.
“They don’t know,” he said.
“They don’t know me yet. I think that god-willing I feel really healthy this year, my hand is really good, and we’re going to play 162, I think it’s going to be a good season for us.”
“Here’s a guy that — the guy can hit,” Martinez reiterated when he was asked about getting Castro back on Saturday.
“He’s got good bat-to-ball skills. Every year you look at him, when he gets over 600 at bats, he’s got over 175 hits.
“He means a lot to our lineup. And he’s a really good defender. He moves well. And we didn’t get to see much of him last year, but I’ve known him for quite some time now. He’s still a young guy. And the thing I love about him is that he loves to play the game. You never have to ask him if he’s okay. He’s going to play every day, and do the best he can to help us win.
“He doesn’t care where he hits in the lineup. He just want to win.”