DETROIT - On Sunday night David Ortiz hit a three-run home run in the top of the ninth inning to hand the Detroit Tigers their fifth loss in seven June games. A team that won 50 games in Comerica Park each of the last five seasons is 4-10 at home since May 8 as its slim lead in the AL Central Division continues to trickle away. The offense is averaging just 3.57 runs per game in June after taking the league by storm throughout April and the early stages of May.
But amid the team's offensive woes, rookie Nick Castellanos found his stroke at the plate. The Tigers' top prospect is hitting his stride after enduring a tough slump in May, hitting .233 with just one home run and 26 strikeouts in 90 at-bats.
Castellanos struggled for many of the same reasons as Austin Jackson in May, showing poor plate discipline and striking out far too often. The 22-year-old's inability to put the ball in play resulted in his RBI total taking a major hit: From 14 in 69 April at-bats to just six in the following month.
As the calendar turned to June Castellanos immediately hit a hot streak. The third baseman has hit in all six of his games and owns a .545 batting average over that span. On June 5 Castellanos tied a career high with three hits, only to do so on each of the two following nights. The rookie has showed signs that his power is returning, crushing a home run and two doubles in the last four days after picking up just two extra-base hits in his previous 64 at-bats.
The most important adjustment in Castellanos' resurgence is his ability to lay off outside breaking pitches. After he clubbed three homers and drove in 14 runs in his first 20 games this season, Major League pitchers developed a scouting report that said Castellanos will chase breaking pitches out of the strike zone.
For the better part of May, Castellanos struggled to lay off the outside pitches, even when he knew they were coming. Pitches that looked like fastballs over the plate dropped off the outside corner as Castellanos swung over them. As a result, the swings and misses increased and his numbers plummeted.
Now the rookie is beginning to lay off those pitches and bat with favorable counts, allowing his elite talent to take care of the rest. With just one strikeout in 22 at-bats this month, the ball is flying off of the rookie's bat and Detroit is seeing why Dave Dombrowski chose Castellanos with the 44th overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft.
Pitchers are scrambling to find a new hole in Castellanos' swing as he confidently lays off pitches that previously left him baffled. In the meantime, his improved plate discipline has helped his average skyrocket from .237 to .270 in just four games. If the 22-year-old continues to make successful adjustments throughout the course of the season, the Tigers will have another very dangerous bat down the stretch, and for years to come.
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