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Welington Castillo's first three-hit game in more than two months on Thursday capped a stretch that showed signs the Orioles catcher is breaking out of a deep offensive slump that plagued him since his second stint on the disabled list in early June.

After Castillo's three hits in the Orioles' 9-7 win over the Texas Rangers, he entered Friday 7-for-14 in four games after seeing his batting average dip to a season-low .258. But it also coincided with manager Buck Showalter giving him additional days off as the temperature climbs in Baltimore during the team's 10-game homestand to open the second half of the season. Seven games into the homestand, Friday's series opener against the Houston Astros marked his third day off.

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"He came off the DL and was really challenged to get in a groove again, and this time of the year, you're got to be careful with running the same catcher out there all the time," Showalter said. "It's so hot and Cassy sweats. I don't know if you see him; he's soaking wet by the second inning. He's one of the few catchers who changes jerseys.

"I think lately you're seeing that he's kind of gotten back to himself. You can tell he's feeling a little bit better. This is a tough time of the year for catchers. I know talking to Rick Dempsey how tough it is catching here in the summer this time of the year. A lot of people think it's as tough as it gets."

Castillo was one of the Orioles' better hitters in the season's first two months, even after missing the first two weeks of May with right shoulder tendinitis. He hit .317 with an .805 OPS over 29 games in April and May.

He landed on the DL a second time after suffering a testicular injury when a deflected pitch hit him in the groin. Upon his return, Castillo struggled to a .167/.244/.359 batting line in 22 games before his current hot stretch.

"Sometimes it gets you because you can be struggling and it can get you down a little bit," Castillo said before Friday's game. "It can get you because you're human. You're battling between you and your mind. But you've got to keep competing, you've got to keep grinding, you've got to keep working hard. You've got eight more guys with a bat who can pick you up. So you can not lose focus behind the plate because you're not hitting. That's when everything starts to go bad."

Castillo said this season isn't much different from past ones, when he has started off strong and struggled right before the break, only to pick up again in the second half. But he said he's determined to not let his struggles affect his responsibilities behind the plate.

"That's why I don't let that bother me too much because I'm going to [get] back," Castillo said. "I know myself as a hitter, as a catcher, as a player, as a person, so I know it's just part of baseball. … When you're not hitting, you still have to be behind the plate 100 percent. I know I can hit a little bit. I know my numbers are not there yet, the RBIs and all that stuff, but I believe in myself. I believe in my abilities and my skills. It's going to come, and hopefully it can come soon so I can contribute and prove my abilities to the team."

Just as Castillo was one of the top hitting catchers on the free-agent market, his contract — which pays him $6 million this season and includes a $7 million player option for next season — could make him attractive to contenders looking for a catching help as the nonwaiver trade deadline approaches.

"You cannot be thinking about it," Castillo said. "Honestly, I want to be here, I want to win here and I know this team is going to win, is going to get better. It's just a matter of time and I want to be here for that. At the same time, it's a business. If I get traded, I get traded. I can't let that [talk] start to bother me. It's something you cannot control, so why do you need to be worried about it? If they decide to do it, then all right, I've got to go. But now you just focus on doing what you need to do and control what you can control."

The Orioles signed Castillo in the offseason as a temporary stopgap to serve as the starting catcher until the club deems top prospect Chance Sisco ready to assume the position. But if Castillo isn't traded, he has control of whether he remains an Oriole in 2018.

"I love it here," Castillo said. "I'm telling you, this team is going to win. We've been struggling lately honestly, but I've seen the same players here playing [good] baseball before and the pitchers throwing the ball really good. I believe in this team, I believe in my teammates. I believe in the talent that we have in here, and honestly, I want to be a part of this team when it wins. That's all that matters."

Orioles left-hander Richard Bleier has found success being unapologetically himself, on and off the field.

Tejada seizing opportunity

Shortstop Rubén Tejada, with three-hit games on Tuesday and Thursday, has seized the opportunity as the team's full-time shortstop in the way he hoped.

Tejada's career was in flux when he moved on from the New York Mets in 2016, but he said a chance like the Orioles presented him is one he has been hoping for to re-establish himself.

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"That's what I was looking for," Tejada said. "I played two years ago more regularly, so I've got to enjoy the opportunity and play hard. Play hard, stay focused and do my job out there."

While splitting time with Paul Janish at shortstop with J.J. Hardy (wrist) out, Tejada was batting .204. But once Janish was designated for assignment and playing time became more regular, Tejada raised his average to .272 entering Friday with 11 hits in 27 at-bats.

"Rubén very quietly has been doing well for us offensively," Showalter said. "He's been a tough out for them."

Around the horn

Infielder Ryan Flaherty (right shoulder strain) and Rule 5 outfielder Anthony Santander (right forearm strain) are scheduled to begin minor league rehabilitation assignments after the Orioles' road series at the Tampa Bay Rays ends Wednesday. Santander can no longer meet his Rule 5 requirements this season, but any time he logs on the active roster this season can carry over to meet those requirements next season. … Thursday's four-homer game by the Orioles marked their 10th this season, which is the most in the majors. …. Longtime Triple-A Norfolk radio play-by-play man Pete Michaud is filling in on the Orioles Radio Network on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Michaud is in his 11th season as the voice of the Tides.

eencina@baltsun.com

jmeoli@baltsun.com

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