Cas­tro feels at home in re­turn to Minute Maid

Ex-Astros catcher sees sim­i­lar­i­ties between for­mer club and new one

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - BASEBALL - By Mark Eisen­hauer mark.eisen­hauer@chron.com twit­ter.com/mark_eisen­hauer

Ja­son Cas­tro is more fa­mil­iar with Minute Maid Park than most op­pos­ing play­ers.

The Min­nesota Twins catcher, an Astros firstround draft pick in 2008, played six sea­sons in Hous­ton be­fore sign­ing a three-year deal with his new club last Novem­ber.

But Fri­day night he re­turned to the ball­park feel­ing out of place.

“I’ve ac­tu­ally never been on this side be­fore so I didn’t re­ally know where I was go­ing when I got here,” Cas­tro said. “I knew that if I walked across the field that would be my best shot to this side. It’s def­i­nitely weird though; the dugouts are mir­ror images of each other.”

Called up from the mi­nors in 2010, Cas­tro was an in­te­gral piece of a young Astros core that lost 111 games in 2013 dur­ing a fran­chise re­build. Two years later, he was part of a 2015 play­off run that was a turn­ing point for a club that now has trans­formed into the best team in the Amer­i­can League.

A free agent at the end of 2016, Cas­tro, 30, joined the Twins, the lat­est 100plus loss fran­chise seek­ing his ex­per­tise. As last year’s worst team, the Twins recorded 103 losses and missed the post­sea­son for the sixth con­sec­u­tive year. Twins no slouch

While the team Cas­tro helped build looks to­ward a po­ten­tial World Se­ries bid the first year af­ter his de­par­ture, the Twins also are ex­ceed­ing ex­pec­ta­tions in 2017. At the All-Star break, they emerged as sur­prise con­tenders, hov­er­ing two games above .500 and, af­ter Satur­day, are just 1½ games be­hind the Cleve­land Indians for first place in the AL Cen­tral.

Cas­tro said he saw the same po­ten­tial in the Twins’ club­house that he no­ticed in the Astros.

“I knew there was a lot of tal­ent here, and I knew we could be good in a lot shorter time frame,” Cas­tro said.

“This team re­minded me a lot of where the Astros were I think prob­a­bly in 2015, as we had kind of made that re­bound af­ter the re­build years. I think the com­plete tear down that Hous­ton went through was a lit­tle bit unique. … From last year to this year, I think it was just an anom­aly (for Min­nesota). It wasn’t nec­es­sar­ily that the tal­ent wasn’t here.”

Cas­tro cred­its the jump the Twins’ younger stars like All-Star third base­man Miguel Sano, right fielder Max Ke­pler and pitcher Jose Ber­rios have made as driv­ing fac­tors en route to a 46-44 start.

“I think we put our­selves in a pretty good spot in the first half,” Cas­tro said. “If we can stay healthy, keep our bats in the lineup and keep our ro­ta­tion to­gether, I think we should be fine.”

Af­ter bat­ting .232 with 212 RBIs in 617 games with the Astros from 2010 through 2016, Cas­tro has strug­gled at the plate as a Twin, post­ing a .217 bat­ting av­er­age through 65 games.

Cas­tro was scratched last week against Bal­ti­more with neck spasms but was back af­ter the Al­lS­tar break, go­ing 0-for-4 with three strike­outs Fri­day and 0-for-2 with two walks and two whiffs Satur­day. ‘It’s good to be back’

The Astros have dom­i­nated the Twins this year, win­ning the first four meet­ings between the two sides by five or more runs en­ter­ing Satur­day, but Cas­tro has en­joyed the visit.

The Astros were the only or­ga­ni­za­tion he had ever known. He is ad­just­ing to a new per­spec­tive.

“Be­ing on this side is a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent,” Cas­tro said. “But it’s good to be back, for sure.”

With two run­ners and a chance to ex­tend a 4-2 lead in the top of the sixth Satur­day, Cas­tro struck out look­ing at a low pitch on a 3-2 count. Cas­tro thought it was a walk and flipped his bat to the op­pos­ing dugout think­ing it was ball four.

He stepped over home plate and headed to­ward a dugout that still felt un­fa­mil­iar.

Karen War­ren / Hous­ton Chron­i­cle

Catcher Ja­son Cas­tro was with the Astros from 2010-16, leav­ing as a free agent to join the Twins on a three­year deal dur­ing the off­sea­son.

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