SARASOTA, FLA. — As Miguel Castro’s audition for a spot in the Orioles starting rotation moves toward its final few acts, more attention will be paid to how well the lanky 23-year-old right-hander sustains his arsenal as his pitch count escalates.
The Orioles believe Castro and his three-pitch mix can make the transition from multi-inning reliever into a starting role, and much of his spring training push will have to do with him showing he can physically make that adjustment.
Making his second Grapefruit League start of the season — he made his spring debut in a “B” game — Castro reached the 69-pitch plateau, tying the most he’s thrown in his major league career, in a 7-4 win over the New York Yankees at Ed Smith Stadium on Wednesday afternoon.
Much more will be made from his upcoming outings, but on Wednesday, Castro allowed four runs — three in the second inning — in a 3 2/3-inning stint. Most of the damage was of his own doing. He walked three batters in the second inning, including two straight to start the frame that eventually scored.
Those walks, followed by a single by Austin Romine, loaded the bases. Castro received some defensive help from first baseman Trey Mancini, who made a diving stop at first on Ronald Torreyes’ ground ball down the line, to limit the scoring to one run on that play. But two batters later, Castro allowed a softly hit two-out single to Shane Robinson that scored two runs.
“[It was] OK. He’s got a lot of emotion going on, but he will during the season, too,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “A little slow to the plate. You could tell he was trying to sink the ball a lot as opposed to overthrow it. I thought he pitched a lot better after the first inning. Some of the adrenaline leveled off.”
Castro said he struggled to command his fastball — which sat in the low 90s but reached 95 — on a hitter-friendly afternoon in which the wind carried balls out in left field. The other run off Castro came on a homer by catcher Erik Kratz in the fourth inning.
“I was trying to locate my fastball early, get it down, and I made a couple mistakes and that was one of the things that I wasn’t doing today,” Castro said through Orioles pitching instructor Ramón Martinez. “A couple of mistakes on my high pitches [were hit].”
Pitching against a Yankees road lineup that included starters Aaron Judge, Greg Bird and Brandon Drury, Castro also got some strikeouts on his off-speed pitches, striking out Judge and Drury looking.
Overall, Castro allowed eight base runners — four hits, three walks and a hit batter — but the most important number in his pitching line was the 69 pitches. The only other time Castro threw that many was in a scoreless six-inning relief outing last year against the Detroit Tigers on Aug. 3.
“It was a lot of pitches I threw today. I know I was a little disappointed because of the way it went, but I’m going to keep working on it and let’s see what happens,” Castro said.
Castro likely has two more outings left in spring training that will be important as he navigates uncharted pitch-count territory.
“They’re important for everybody who is on the cusp, and for him whether he’s going to start, relieve or go back to the minor leagues,” Showalter said. “That’s where the importance lies with every little look we get and how we feel he’s progressing with some of the things we’re trying to do with him. … I’d like to see his command a little better, his time to the plate a little better, but that will come though.”