Castellanos showing marked improvement at third base

Third baseman Nick Catellanos has shown steady progress defensively and made several strong plays in the Tigers' nine-game home stand that concludes Thursday.

After spending two seasons playing left field, Castellanos is showing steady improvement as a third baseman.

Tim Fuller

DETROIT -- There's no longer a need to wince any time a tough chance in the field is coming at Detroit Tigers rookie third baseman Nick Castellanos. He's shown steady progress defensively, and made several strong plays in the nine-game home stand that concludes with Thursday afternoon's game against the Chicago White Sox.

There was the foul popup by Cleveland slugger Michael Brantley that he slid to catch on the warning track near the dugout, and there were several nice plays in the hole -- where Castellanos played the ball instead of letting it play him.

"His comfort level certainly has risen," Detroit manager Brad Ausmus said Thursday morning. "He takes ground balls every day with (coaches) and is still learning the players in the league. He's improved quite a bit since the first day of spring training."

Tigers infield coach Omar Vizquel, who hits Castellanos that daily diet of grounders along with defensive coordinator Matt Martin, said before spring training that his goal was getting Castellanos, 22, to make the "routine plays." It was clearly evident that there was work to do with Castellanos, who had spent two seasons playing left field but is a natural third baseman.

"Repetition prepares you for the game," Castellanos said. "But your confidence level in the game comes from game experience. You can take 1,000 ground balls, but when you get in front of 45,000 fans you're going to be nervous and think that you might mess up."

He's made only one error, but there are other balls he didn't make plays on which a solid third baseman would've made. Still, his teammates have been patient with Castellanos. And that starts at the top with pitcher Justin Verlander.

Castellanos recalled Verlander's message after the error: "Shake it off. Forget about it. Go get 'em next time."

And what that support has meant is immeasurable. Without veterans in his corner, Castellanos could've gone into a shell and lost confidence. But the regulars respect his work ethic and professional approach. He noted that shortstops Andrew Romine and the recently-released Alex Gonzalez have been good at making sure he's positioned correctly for hitters.

V-MART GETS 1,500th HIT:

Designated hitter Victor Martinez's leadoff single Wednesday night in the ninth inning was the 1,500th of his 12-year career.

The switch-hitter has 1,015 as a left-handed hitter and has batted .305 from that side when facing right-handed pitchers. He has 485 hits as a right-handed hitter, and a .299 average from that side against lefty pitchers.

Martinez's ability to consistently hit any pitcher from both sides of the plate has made for a long, productive career. And he shows no signs of slowing down at 35. Martinez hit .361 after the All-Star break last year, and is batting .308 through Wednesday.

THE SHIFT CRAZE:

Ausmus said the drastic rise in the number of shifts teams are using on the infield could cause hitter adjustments that include bunts to the vacated third base position by left-handed hitters.

"We've talked about it with Alex (Avila)," Ausmus said, "and he squared yesterday."

Martinez gets a wide variety of defensive set-ups.

"Some shift him," Ausmus said, "and some don't. It's usually not radical, but they do shift for him most times."