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Castellanos making most of spring playing time

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PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Call Nick Castellanos too young or inexperienced for the Major Leagues. Label him underseasoned for the outfield with less than a year of work. List any number of reasons why Castellanos won't make the Tigers out of camp, and that's the fate he probably faces.

But he's opportunistic, give him that.

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Whether or not manager Jim Leyland intended to give Castellanos a long look in left field, he's getting it. With Andy Dirks, Brennan Boesch and Quintin Berry all injured, Leyland is short on outfielders. Castellanos is making the most of his chances.

The young man the Tigers view as the future, ironically, is simply playing for the now.

"I'm really fortunate that I'm getting as much playing time," Castellanos said after Thursday's 11-2 win over the Rays, "but I also understand there's a lot of big leaguers that are injured. I know that when they're healthy, they need playing time, so I'm not going to be disappointed when Boesch and Dirks and Berry are starting to get reps. So I'm just trying to take advantage of the time I have now."

The more he hits, the more it's a positive. He's hitting a ton this week.

With Thursday's three-hit game, Castellanos has reached base safely in eight of 10 plate appearances since he played all nine innings against the Phillies on Monday. He had a trio of singles in as many plate appearances Thursday, including a two-out RBI liner to center off the Rays' young lefty Matt Moore and a broken-bat single off seasoned right-hander Jamey Wright.

He's now tied for the team lead in hits (six) with Victor Martinez and Tyler Collins, and he has three walks. In the process, he's growing into the title of this year's Spring Training tear.

The Tigers have had veterans do that and eventually fade. Ryan Raburn had six home runs heading into mid-March last year and never hit the rest of the year. Detroit had young players tear up the Grapefruit League and use it as a springboard to an early-season appearance, such as Dirks and Boesch.

Neither Dirks or Boesch came in with the prospect ranking of Castellanos. Neither came in with as much momentum as Castellanos, whose 2012 season put him on the clock for a Major League opportunity sometime in the near future.

Even if Leyland doesn't want people going overboard about early Spring Training performances, he can't blame them. He wants to temper the enthusiasm about Castellanos' chances at winning playing time in left field -- Detroit needs a right-handed hitter alongside Dirks or Boesch, after all -- but he doesn't extinguish the enthusiasm.

"I would say that they're getting a little ahead of themselves, if that's what they're saying," Leyland said. "You know what? I want them to get ahead of themselves. We've got this kid down here that's tearing the cover off the ball. I like that. I mean, that's good stuff."

Castellanos, clearly, will not go overboard.

"If this is a boxing match, this is just the end of Round 1," he said. "I don't know how many rounds there are, 12 or whatever, but there's still a long way."

Though Castellanos' tear began Monday with his opposite-field home run off Jonathan Papelbon, he has thrived on the line-drive single. Instead of trying to swing big, he has made his swing look nice and easy in delivering balls to the outfield. He centered all three pitches he hit Thursday.

"Had three good swings," Castellanos said. "The last guy broke my bat, those cutters, but still I stayed on it and I covered that outside part of the plate. It was a good swing."

Thursday also saw Castellanos receive more activity in left field in six innings than he did in nine innings Monday. The converted third baseman handled himself well, catching a few fly balls and playing a double off the wall, though he briefly struggled to retrieve it.

"It's good, just because it shows them that I can handle myself in all those different types of situations," Castellanos said, "playing a ball off the wall, cutting off a ball in the gap, and just catching routine fly balls. I haven't had too much of running catches or anything so far, but I haven't had the opportunity to make that."

He'll probably get enough opportunities in the coming days. Dirks could return from his left intercostal strain on Friday to face the Mets, but the Tigers' split-squad games Saturday pretty much guarantee that Castellanos will play. Berry is sidelined for at least the next few days while he receives treatment for patellar tendinitis in his left knee, and Boesch has missed almost two weeks of camp with his oblique strain.

The longer those injuries linger, the better chance Castellanos will face the next test, when pitchers begin honing in their stuff and starters work into the middle innings.

"Anybody in Spring Training, when the curves get a little sharper and the sliders get a little better and all that, who knows what's going to happen," Leyland said. "But one thing is for sure: Doing good right now is a good thing. It's better than not doing good when pitchers aren't sharp and everything."

Leyland grouped Castellanos, Collins and other youngsters into that category, but Castellanos is quickly becoming the focus. Even if he doesn't make the team out of camp, a strong spring could keep that focus on him heading to Triple-A Toledo. Leyland seemingly hinted at that possibility.

"I like it when, whoever it is, you send somebody down and they made a real good impression in Spring Training and they go down there and do good in the Minor Leagues," Leyland said. "That's in the memory bank, what these guys are doing right now."

Castellanos would like it to be more, no doubt, but he can't make the decisions. All he can do is keep hitting.

"I'm just happy that I'm showing them that I really want to help this team win," he said. "Whether it's at third base or the outfield or wherever, as long as I can get in a spot in a Tigers uniform."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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{"event":["spring_training" ] }
{"event":["spring_training" ] }