Castillo has no issue with No. 8 spot
Three-time All-Star focused on productive season, not lineup
JUPITER, Fla. -- Mets manager Jerry Manuel raised some eyebrows on Monday, when he opted to go full-time with the young Daniel Murphy in the No. 2 spot in the lineup, rather than switch-hitting veteran Luis Castillo.
Throughout his 13-year career, the top of the order is pretty much the only place Castillo has known. But injury problems that forced him to miss significant time in 2008, coupled with a great spring by Murphy, slid Castillo all the way down to the eighth spot in the lineup for the upcoming season -- behind catcher Brian Schneider.
Despite the fact that he's a proven veteran with three All-Star Game appearances under his belt, however, Castillo said he has no gripes about the move.
"Honestly, I totally respect the manager's decision," Castillo said Tuesday in Spanish. "I know that last year was a very difficult one for me, and I just want to keep playing well to show them what type of ballplayer I am."
During his 13th year in the Major Leagues in 2008, Castillo was limited to just 87 games after suffering injuries to his left wrist, right knee, a quadriceps muscle and, most drastically, a strained left hip flexor that put him out of action for 47 games.
That's why this year, the No. 8 that was recently labeled on Castillo will take a backseat to the number 162.
"I think I can play an entire season, and that's what I'm ready for," Castillo said after going 0-for-3 in a 9-2 win over the Marlins on Tuesday. "I'm ready to play 100 percent and be healthy."
But will he be effective?
Castillo has played a combined 1,371 games from the leadoff and No. 2 spot of the lineup, compiling a batting average over .290 at each spot. Batting eighth, however, the Dominican Republic native has played just 57 games, compiling a .214 batting average.
The No. 8 spot in the lineup is a little tricky in the National League, too, because the pitcher is hitting behind you. Most of the time, with two outs and runners in scoring position, opposing hurlers will work around the eighth-place hitter because he'll like his chances with the pitcher batting next. In those situations, it's the No. 8 hitter's job to force contact -- despite not seeing the best of pitches -- to try to get the run in himself.
That is pretty much a talent in its own right.
"It's a little tough, but I just have to adapt myself to the situation," Castillo said. "The kind of ballplayer I am, I try to show the team that I just like to get on base and try to score runs. All I have to do is adjust to the decision of the manager, and just do what I can do."
After Tuesday's game, Castillo sports a .255 Spring Training batting average, while Murphy -- who turns 24 on Wednesday -- is hitting .363 and is tied for the team lead with 15 RBIs.
There's not really much to quarrel about there.
"It's a little tough to deal with, but it's really out of my control," Castillo said. "It's the decision of the Mets, and sometimes you just have to adapt to the decisions they make. I'm just going to try to do my job. When you do your job and work hard, good things usually come."
Castillo said he dropped 14 pounds over the offseason, and even though he's a 33-year-old with several injuries and more than 5,000 at-bats to his name, he claims he feels like a new man going into 2009.
"I feel good now," Castillo said. "The season is long. Last year I was a little overweight because of the operation, and my knees and my hip started hurting, and I felt uncomfortable.
"But this is a new year, and let's see what happens."
Alden Gonzalez is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.