During last year’s regular-season finale at Target Field, a longtime Twins catcher bid an emotional farewell to his team and its fans.
Jason Castro has no such plans for Sunday.
Castro’s three-year contract runs out once the Twins’ season does, but the fact that the expiration date is probably more than a week away has distracted him from his pending free agency. “Honestly, I haven’t thought about it at all,” the 32-year-old said. “We’ve still got some big games ahead of us.”
True, but he will likely play a smaller role in them than he might have imagined when he signed that three-year, $24.5 million deal in November 2016. Castro played a huge role in the Twins’ wild-card season of 2017 but missed five months last year after undergoing knee surgery. He’s had a reasonably good bounceback season this summer but has gradually transitioned to a backup role behind Mitch Garver, who has enjoyed a breakout season.
Castro has started 27 games since the All-Star break, including Saturday; Garver has been behind the plate 40 times. The veteran will finish the season with around 72 starts; last season excepted, it’s the first time since 2013 that he won’t be in the lineup more than 100 times.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Castro’s production at the plate has tailed off over the past three months, too.
“Any time you have a lot of time off in between [games], you’ve got to try to figure out how that works. Early on, that wasn’t an issue. Usually coming out of spring training, you’re kind of used to getting lots of time off, and then you ramp it up. So I’ve had to adjust the way I go about my work,” Castro said. “It’s been kind of a learning experience.”
A bumpy one. Castro was one of the pleasant surprises of the first couple of months, and on May 15 he was batting .250 with seven home runs and a 1.025 OPS. But he has hit .193 since the break, with just two home runs and 40 strikeouts in 100 plate appearances.
“I’m just trying to kind of find a rhythm. Obviously it hasn’t gone my way,” said Castro, drafted 10th overall by the Astros in 2008. “I felt like I was hitting the ball better than what my results were, even in the first half. So I’m just trying to find a consistency, and trying to get that feel back that I had earlier.”
He is mostly healthy, though, and his defense remains strong. With their best catching prospects still a year or two away from the majors, it’s not hard to picture the Twins offering Castro a contract for 2020, though perhaps at a reduced rate from his current $8 million salary.
That might have some appeal, Castro said — when he eventually stops to think about it.
“Obviously, the team has been phenomenal, and that’s our No. 1 priority. So I just try to get my work in when I can and be there when I’m called upon,” Castro said. “This is a great team. The coaching staff has been great. It’s a tremendous atmosphere to be part of. So I guess we’ll see what happens.”
Buxton sticks around
The Twins depart immediately after Sunday’s game for Detroit, where they will spend an off day Monday before closing the season with six consecutive road games. Byron Buxton will make the trip, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said.
Why? In case there’s an opportunity to spray a little champagne in Detroit or Kansas City, the manager hinted.
“For our guys that have contributed toward everything we’re doing here, I’d love for everyone to be involved” in a clinching celebration, Baldelli said, “if we were lucky enough to be there. I’d certainly want them to take part in it.”
That means Buxton, Ehire Adrianza and perhaps Sam Dyson, who has a doctor’s appointment in Los Angeles first, are invited along, too, even though they won’t be playing on the trip. (Adrianza fielded ground balls Saturday as he works his way back from an oblique strain.)
One exception: Michael Pineda won’t be on the trip. The righthander, who made 26 starts and recorded 11 wins before being suspended for failing a drug test last month, remains in Minnesota but is not with the team during games.
• Max Kepler pinch ran for Castro in the eighth inning Saturday, the outfielder’s first appearance in a game all week as he continues to recover from a back injury.
• Nelson Cruz had lunch with Miguel Vargas, the minister for foreign affairs in the Dominican Republic, then gave his countryman a tour of Target Field on Saturday. Vargas threw out the first pitch, with Cruz catching.