MINNEAPOLIS -- Detroit Tigers third baseman Nick Castellanos entered Sunday's game leading the American League in batting average and his confidence at the plate turned out to be a major asset as he came to bat with two men on and two outs in the sixth inning.
The 24-year-old Castellanos homered to left field on a 3-2 pitch, prevailing in a seven-pitch battle with Ricky Nolasco and knotting the score at 5. The home run, his fourth of the season, allowed him to finish with his second four-RBI game this year. Castellanos ended Detroit's series sweep against the Minnesota Twins with a .500 average (6-for-12). More importantly, it fueled the Tigers' come-from-behind 6-5 win on Sunday at Target Field.
Castellanos has now hit safely in 15 of his last 17 games and is batting .393 during that span.
"This is his third year," said veteran designated hitter Victor Martinez, who was 3-for-4 on Sunday. "You can see he's more comfortable, moving with a lot more energy. He's going to get better."
It's hard to imagine much of an improvement on what has been a dominant April for the young infielder, but certainly his progress at the plate is experiencing a sharp uptick.
"Everyone thought he would hit," manager Brad Ausmus said of the organization's original hopes for the prospect. "And he really has hit for a young player. He's just maturing and getting better."
Ausmus said Castellanos has gotten better at not chasing pitches out of the strike zone, but Castellanos felt he still has room to improve in that area.
"You can definitely say that [but] my discipline is still something I need to work on. It's not like I have anything figured out. I'm still learning, trying to get better. I'm doing a good job hitting the pitches I can handle but I still do get in trouble and I do chase sometimes," Castellanos said. "It's all part of the game."
As important as the offense was in Sunday's rally -- and throughout the past week -- the bullpen played a critical role as well.
Kyle Ryan escaped a fifth-inning bases-loaded jam with minimal damage, Alex Wilson provided some length with 1 2/3 innings, Mark Lowe pitched an efficient, clean seventh inning, Justin Wilson racked up his 12th consecutive scoreless inning and Francisco Rodriguez picked up another save to preserve the 6-5 lead in the ninth.
For a team that used to cringe whenever games hinged on the performance of their relievers, the bullpen of 2016 has appeared, so far, to be a dramatic about-face from last year.
"Huge," said Castellanos. "Even our starting pitching has been very good, over the course of this win streak. Not only our bullpen and our hitters, we've just been playing good baseball."