With Cabrera Done For Season, Castellanos Poised To Show Tigers The Way

"I'm up for it," he said.

Will Burchfield
June 13, 2018 - 1:38 am

© Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports


For Nick Castellanos, the first order of business was to check on his friend. After Miguel Cabrera left Tuesday night's game with what would later be deemed a season-ending biceps injury, Castellanos ran up to the clubhouse between innings to let Cabrera know he wasn't alone. Cabrera emerged from the doctor's office with his swollen arm pinned against his body and told Castellanos, "I felt it pop." They both knew the implications were grave. 

"I just tapped him on the shoulder and said, 'I’m with you, buddy,'" Castellanos said. 

Castellanos' next order of business, after the Tigers' 6-4 loss to the Twins, was to rally a somber clubhouse. Ron Gardenhire gave a short speech to the players, imploring them to attack tomorrow, and then looked at Castellanos and told him to throw on some music. 

"No problem," Castellanos said. 

The 26-year-old has assumed a leadership role on a young Tigers team this season, and is prepared to shoulder an even bigger load with Cabrera out for the year. 

"Now it’s just more the part of being the voice and making sure everybody else is feeling good, no one’s down, no one’s questioning themselves and everyone’s just going out there and doing their thing. That’s all really I can do," Castellanos said. "It started with putting on music in the clubhouse. Forget it, we lost, we got another one tomorrow. Sulking and being in a bad mood and dwelling on what happened ain’t gonna help." 

Castellanos won't suddenly change his routine. Nor will he change his demeanor. "Leaders don't force anything," he said, and such reactions would likely only stir panic among his teammates. But he does intend to be more vocal and more vigilant of the atmosphere around the club in the wake of Cabrera's injury. 

The first step in moving past the news, Castellanos said, is facing it head-on. 

"You say it out loud so you can come to terms with it and move forward. Period. Miggy’s not going to be here the rest of the year. What happens from here on out is up to these guys in the clubhouse who are healthy," Castellanos said. 

Castellanos has been the Tigers' best hitter this season, even when Cabrera was on the field. He leads the team in average (.316), RBI (34) and OPS (.846). He has spoken frequently like a man on a mission, a player out to prove people wrong, and he's thus far backed up his words. The defiant Tigers have followed his lead.

The challenge ahead of them will be heightened without Cabrera, just as the weight will increase on Castellanos both on and off the field. "I'm up for it," he said. The spotlight will also brighten on John Hicks, who Ron Gardenhire said will take over primary duties at first base. Hicks filled in admirably for Cabrera in the month of May, and Castellanos was quick to vouch for him on Tuesday night. 

"If he does how he did last time, we’re not going to have any complaints. He had a lot of big hits, drove in a lot of runs and the more he played over there the more sure-handed he got. We all have a lot of confidence in Hicksy stepping up and doing the job," Castellanos said. 

The Tigers as a whole scrapped and clawed in Cabrera's first prolonged absence of the season, posting a record of 13-13 without him. They can lean on that moving forward. Castellanos knows they must. 

"Miguel Cabrera is Miguel Cabrera and no one takes that away from him, but we got 24 other guys -- now 25 other guys -- in here that can play baseball too," Castellanos said. "Now’s the time."

The time is now, most specifically, for Castellanos. The new-look Tigers have felt more and more like his team, and the loss of Cabrera only heightens that association. Every ballclub needs a face. The face of the Tigers is about to become the one that drew the glare of the cameras in a clubhouse that had just absorbed a collective punch to the gut. 

Castellanos said he doesn't view himself as a leader, just a "good friend." He proved he's both on Tuesday night, and he's shown he's a heck of a hitter throughout the year. It now falls on him to fill all three roles for a team in need.