With Health Has Come Hits for Ismael Castro

SAN ANTONIO, Texas – Once upon a time in Venezuela, Ismael Castro was making a name for himself as the Seattle Mariners' top second baseman in their farm system.

After winning team MVP in 2001, the Columbian traveled to short-season Single-A Everett a season later, where he led the Northwest League in batting average, hits and doubles, placing second in RBI. He was awarded league MVP for his efforts, and a solid 2003 with Inland Empire cemented his place within the organization.

Fast forward to now, and some might say Castro's past is a myth, a legend. A base-running injury in April of 2004 sidelined the 21-year old for the remainder of that season. Then, early this year, Castro had trouble making the Missions' everyday lineup after an early quad injury, and carried a .228 through two months.

"He's working hard every day, and just trying to stay healthy," said Gary Thurman, the Missions hitting coach. "You can see him favoring the leg from time to time. It's normal for (a past injury) to be in the back of your mind."

The man and myth may finally be in alignment, as Castro is hitting as well as he has at any point in his professional career. The second baseman has played in 16 straight team games and raised not only his average (from .234 at the end of the first half to .275) but his confidence as well.

"It's going to take a while to get to where I was, but you just gain confidence by seeing more pitches and getting more at-bats," Castro said.

Over the team's recent marathon homestand, Castro weilded the hottest bat on the club, sporting a 13-game hitting streak and belting four home runs during that stretch.

"I've been more selective lately, just trying to be patient at the plate," Castro said. "At the end of the year I want to be hitting around .280 or .290."

Castro is hitting .465 over his streak, turning around a previously unspectacular offensive year. Earlier in the season he was using a more aggressive approach, which resulted in quick outs that revealed little about the pitcher for Castro's next at-bat.

"Before he was always hitting with two strikes, and had to hit the pitcher's pitch," Thurman said. "Now he's hitting getting ahead in the count and seeing the breaking balls and change ups early in the game."

Thurman has worked with Castro to gradually steer the infielder away from these habits, which younger players can get away with at the lower levels, and the results speak for themselves. Castro's batting average has climbed three consecutive months, highlighted by a .310 average for the month of July and culminating with August's .476.

"Patience just comes with time," said Thurman. "He's a young player, and you'll find a lot of Latin players are very aggressive with the strike zone. In A-ball, the pitchers make a lot more mistakes, and you can hit balls for base hits, but we'd rather see him hit strikes."

While any improvement on his average would be expected after last half, the power numbers are more surprising. Castro has hammered four doubles and driving in 11 runs during the hitting streak.

"I don't worry about the numbers," Castro said. "If you're hitting the ball good, you're going to hit home runs."

Castro admits the quad injury still lingers months later. Anyone watching the team, though, will attest to the fact that he is closer to 100 percent than at any point in the season. His range at second has improved, and Thurman says Castro's times to first are consistently faster than previous runs.

"Everyday I'm getting better," Castro said. "I know my injuries held me back some. I'm not where I want to be right now, but I feel like I'm getting there."

Even at less-than-full-strength, Castro is on his way to a successful end to the season, and could possibly be in line for a promotion next season.

"I'm honored to be thought of as one of the top second baseman in the organization," Castro said. "I just need to keep working on offense and defense to be that all-around player."

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