The hallmark of any good Orioles season is that they seem to bring in an offensive threat from out of baseball's wilderness, and watch him flourish. Maybe it was a lack of other opportunities, or a misconception about what that player brought, but the likes of Nelson Cruz, Steve Pearce and Mark Trumbo have always been key parts of their success.
The only thing that has stopped catcher Welington Castillo from seizing that mantle in his debut season with the Orioles is a few scattered weeks on the disabled list. Otherwise, his bat has been one that has steadied the Orioles when not much else has been consistent through the season's first 66 games.
His grand slam Wednesday, part of a two-game run of consecutive games with a home run, gave manager Buck Showalter a reminder of what Castillo has been for the Orioles while healthy.
"He's had a track record of that for a while," Showalter said. "I've said before, and I admit it: I didn't know how good he was. You always wonder how numbers are going to translate from league to league. He had to learn a lot of new hitters, new pitchers. He had the [World Baseball Classic]. … But he's been a quick study. Real easy to pull for. Real good teammate."
The drawback of Castillo's season is that he has made just 36 starts for the Orioles, with a typical catcher's workload interrupted by two weeks on the disabled list in May because of lingering shoulder tendinitis from the WBC, then 10 days this month after a deflected ball into his groin caused a blood clot.
In between, Castillo has been as consistent at the plate as anyone. He entered Saturday batting .292/.315/.458 with six home runs and 23 RBIs, with his rate stats all on pace for career highs. Considering his position and how so many of the team's other stars are underperforming, it's reasonable to view him as the team's leading candidate for next month's All-Star Game.
He has produced in plenty of key situations, with back-to-back winning home runs on May 19 and May 20 against the Toronto Blue Jays and Wednesday's go-ahead grand slam against the Chicago White Sox.
But even when it's not the game-changing big swings grabbing attention, he's always in the mix in one way or another. Castillo has at least one hit in 26 of his 36 starts, and is only batting below .300 at this point because he has been slow to find his swing after returning from his second disabled list stint on June 10. But with home runs in back-to-back games to end the road trip, he seems to be getting back on track.
"There's no doubt that he's had a really nice season so far," Trumbo said. "He's been a bright spot in the lineup, and I think that he's definitely picked up some of the slack for some of us — myself included — that would like to be a little bit better or haven't been. He's battled through a couple things, but every time he's come back he's been stronger than he was before."
The Orioles were fortunate to have Castillo, an offensive-minded catcher, on the market after the Arizona Diamondbacks didn't tender him a contract this offseason. The Orioles were looking for a replacement for former top pick Matt Wieters, and while Castillo carried some defensive questions about his ability to keep the ball in front of him and call a good game, there has always been a bat there for a team to fall in love with.
"He can swing the bat," executive vice president Dan Duquette said. "He's got good balance. He can get a hit when you need a hit, uses the whole field — a good veteran player, a good role model for the younger players."
Yet to this point, he never found a home. Castillo, 30, came up through the Chicago Cubs organization, but was dealt to the Seattle Mariners in May 2015 for reliever Yoervis Medina. The Mariners dealt him just two weeks later in a big deal that brought Trumbo in from the Diamondbacks. Castillo spent 2016 in Arizona before the team decided not to bring him back.
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He has felt a season like he's having has always been possible, but never really put it together, for a variety of reasons.
"Honestly, I think that I can hit a little bit," Castillo said. "Always, I've been that type of hitter who has just had stuff happen, injuries and stuff out there that made me not perform the right way or be 100 percent.
"But honestly as a catcher, it's hard to perform 100 percent every day because you're sore, you get hit every day, you're so involved in the game. It doesn't mean I don't. I'm not trying to make an excuse or whatever, but it doesn't matter if you're 100 percent or not. I'm going to give everything I've got that day."
Like Cruz and Trumbo and so many others before him, he has found the Orioles clubhouse an easy place to do that in, as compared to some other stops.
"Baseball is hard," Castillo said. "Baseball is up and down, and this is a great place to be — a great team to be on. We have a great coaching staff. Our manager, he lets you be you. I don't try to make excuses about the other teams like that, because we're grown men. We know what to do. We know what is good for us, and what we work on, what we know. But this is a great place to be."