CHICAGO -- In April it happened just once -- at the end of the month.
In May, again at the end of the month, it happened four times -- in consecutive games played. In June it became a little more sporadic, but by July Chicago Cubs catcher Welington Castillo was finally taking his walks and his offensive game was benefiting.
Since the All-Star break Castillo has walked 15 times in 19 games, including in each of the last six heading into Monday night. In the first half, Castillo walked that one time in April, then four times in May and eight more times in a total of 69 games played. Thirteen walks in 69 games followed by 15 in 19 games.
“I’ve been seeing the ball really well and laying off those pitches down and away or down and in,” Castillo said before the Cubs played the Cincinnati Reds on Monday night.
The numbers back that up. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Castillo is swinging at pitches considered “down and away” 10 percent less than he did in the first half and his chase percentage in general -- swings at pitches outside the strike zone -- is down five percent.
You would think a major adjustment or meeting of the minds with Cubs’ coaches played a part in his change. It’s even more simple than that.
“More playing time,” Castillo said. “The confidence too. It comes together. I just needed the at-bats.”
Manager Dale Sveum added: “It’s not a mystery that walks and everything come with experience and at-bats in the big leagues for guys that want to take that extra step in their game.”
This is Castillo’s first year as a full-time starter and after beginning the year as one of the hottest hitters on the team he cooled off considerably, hitting .230 in May and .257 in June. When the walks starting coming in July, his batting average started to rise. He hit .288 in July and so far he’s at .364 in August with a whopping 1.091 OPS (on-base plus slugging).
“I’m still going to the plate with the same plan, be aggressive,” Castillo said. “I’m recognizing if a pitch is going to be a ball or strike.”
Sveum talked extensively about the Cubs -- and Castillo -- doing a better job late in the count, when the “anxiety” rises. Castillo is walking more and so are his teammates.
“Welington has had some great at-bats since the All-Star break and taking his walks,” Sveum stated. “Getting to the 3-2 counts and not swinging out of the zone.”
Again the numbers back that up. On full counts in the first half Castillo walked 34 percent (10 of 29) of the time. Since the All-Star break he’s increased that percentage to 58 percent (7 of 12).
“There’s some guys that don’t want to take that extra step,” Sveum said.
Castillo is proving he’s not one of them.
“They’re going to have throw me strikes or I’m going to walk,” he said.