DETROIT — Nick Castellanos has been making progress since fracturing the fifth metacarpal of his left hand, but he’s still not ready to return to the lineup. On Wednesday, the third baseman took live batting practice off of Jordan Zimmermann during the pitcher’s own simulated game, and came away with the results he hoped for.
“I wanna help the team win, so I wanna go out and play,” Castellanos said. “I see time dwindling down and the amount of games we have left, but do I really wanna go back out there, not being able to be myself?”
The plan wasn’t to go in swinging away at full-speed pitches during Castellanos’ first live batting practice session. He isn’t quite ready for that just yet. He has been sidelined since Aug. 6, and was expected to miss 4-6 weeks. The hope had initially been that he’d miss only four weeks, but realistically the six-week mark was the benchmark.
For Castellanos, waiting has been the hardest part of his recovery. But he’s not about to take risks in a foolhardy effort to be back on the field if he can’t contribute in any meaningful manner. So, Wednesday he just took in one “at-bat” that amounted to a few pitches against Zimmermann, and called it a day. His hand is still biting some when he swings, so he’s still easing himself into live BP and other baseball activities.
His approach against the pitches he saw wasn’t perfect, but Castellanos said that’s alright, and at this point no one’s truly expecting him to be. The same could be said of Zimmermann, who threw 80 pitches and gave up three hits in his “game.” But because of his expected contributions entering the season, anticipation for his return (and to full health) has been high.
“I thought he looked better,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “He was a little more consistent, mechanically. Coming right at the hitter with his deliver. He definitely looked better. ... I think it’s just a matter of getting consistent with the mechanics. ... The breaking balls had more depth and there was more life on the fastball.”
But better doesn’t mean he’s ready — the consistency is still lacking. And in remembering this was a simulated game where the infielders were comprised of Anibal Sanchez, Mike Pelfrey, and Justin Verlander, he also faced a not-quite-ready Castellanos, Dixon Machado, and a few other light-hitters on the team. But it’s still progress.
The decision of whether Zimmermann starts again won’t be made until he throws a side bullpen on Thursday and the Tigers see how he feels after that. Zimmermann said he felt more comfortable as the “game” went on, but at this point, it doesn’t appear the team is rushing his return by any means.
Neither player is “close” to a return per se and it’s the middle of September. But while the Tigers need both in their push for the playoffs, getting anything less than fully healthy players would be more of a detriment than a help at this point — as Zimmermann found out the first time he attempted to come back on Aug. 4.
In Castellanos’ case, at least he’s past the hardest part in his recovery. He’s about where Ausmus and the team expects him to be — including the pain he experiences during soft toss and live contact with higher-velocity pitches. Contributing again this season hasn’t been ruled out, but there isn’t an abundance of room, either. But there isn’t much he can do about that.
“I haven’t gotten an X-ray that says it’s completely, 100 percent healed, but they said it might not even show that until three months from now — when it’s completely healed,” Castellanos said. “They told me they don’t really think I could re-fracture the bone, but even though I’m at a point where I can’t re-fracture my bone, that doesn’t mean that it’s just ready for all activity.”