Starlin Castro and Davey Martinez have a ritual exchange in advance of each game.
“Every day before the game he’ll come up to me and he goes, ‘Don’t worry, I got you,’” the fourth-year skipper told reporters last month. “And I said, ‘Hey, I’m good. I don’t worry. I know you got me, or else you wouldn’t be playing third base.’ So I said, ‘Just go out there relax and have fun.”
Martinez told that story after Castro came through with a two-run single in the top of the ninth inning on June 23rd in Philadelphia, lifting Washington to a 13-12 advantage in what was a back-and-forth battle between the Nationals and Phillies in Citizens Bank Park.
The eventual game-winning hit was a big deal for Castro, his manager said.
“Huge. Like I said, here’s another guy who had his eyes watery, but it was a big moment for him today to come through the way he did.
“He understands, he’s been around, he understands, and I know, at the end of the day, he’s going to have his 175 hits, I’ve said that all along, he’s going to hit his .270, .280, drive in 70-80 runs. Just take it one at bat at a time, and tonight was a perfect example. We needed a clutch hit, and oh man, he stayed on the ball, and came through with a beautiful line drive to right-center field.”
The big hit, on a three-hit day against the Phillies, came as Castro was finding his way out of a rough stretch at the plate.
“I [was] feeling pretty good the last series at home too, you know,” Castro told reporters in a post game Zoom call that day.
“I just continue to grind it out,” he said. “I know there’s a lot of games to be played, so I just try to be ready, go out there and be ready to hit, the fastball especially.”
And his pregame assurances to Martinez that he has the manager’s back? What’s up with that?
“I always do that to him,” the 31-year-old infielder explained. “He always tells me he believes in me, and that’s what I tell him every day, ‘Hey, I got your back today, I’m going to be good.’ And he tells me, ‘Yeah, I know, I trust you,’ so I always tell him that I got his back.”
In his last 12 games (going into last night’s series opener in San Diego), Castro was swinging a hot bat, going 16 for 40 (.400/.478/.550) with three doubles, a homer, six walks, and six Ks in 47 plate appearances over that stretch, which left him at .264/.317/.354, with 17 doubles and three home runs on the year, (not far off his .279/.318/.412 career averages).
Going up against the Padres, Castro had a seven-game hit streak, over which he was 10 for 21 (.476 AVG) with two doubles, one home run, seven RBIs, four walks, and five runs scored, with multi-hit games in three of the seven.
“He’s been hitting the way I thought he would hit all along,” Martinez said after a two-hit day for Castro in the Nats’ loss to the LA Dodgers on Sunday afternoon in the nation’s capital.
“I’ve seen him hit — I’ve seen him — here’s a guy that when the season is over, like I said, he’s going to have 170 to 200 hits, he’s done it a lot in his career, and he’s just getting going and he’s swinging the bat well.
“I know he’s going to help us, he’s going to help us offensively, and I can’t say enough about the way he’s been playing defense.
“He’s been really good at third base for us, so I hope he continues to have the success he’s having right now, because we’re going to need him.”
Asked what, if anything, has changed in Castro’s approach at the plate over this recent run of success, Martinez said, “I think he’s staying behind the ball a little better and driving the ball to right field, right-center field, center field, when he does that, he takes the fastballs the other way and he can stay on the breaking balls and drive them to left field. So, like I said, his at bats over the last few days have been really, really good, so he’s going to be hitting in the middle of that lineup a lot, so he’s a guy that I count on to drive in some runs.”
Castro was hitless through four plate appearances last night, but he reached on an infield single in the top of the ninth and extend his hit streak to eight-straight games.