Castillo a late show at Phillies camp

Luis Castillo arrived in Clearwater to join the Phillies on Tuesday. (Jeff Roberson/AP)
Luis Castillo arrived in Clearwater to join the Phillies on Tuesday. (Jeff Roberson/AP) (Greg Boyce)
Posted: March 22, 2011

CLEARWATER, Fla. - At 8:22 a.m., Pete Mackanin removed the Phillies lineup from a bulletin board in the clubhouse. The bench coach took his Wite-Out pen and blotted out CASTILLO 4, which had been written second in the batting order.

In a corner of the room, a new locker space cleared between Placido Polanco and Raul Ibanez contained two pairs of white-and-gray pants and two jerseys. They were untouched.

Luis Castillo had a jersey number (3), but there was no sign Tuesday morning of the recently acquired second baseman, given a new but tenuous lease on his baseball life after becoming a symbol of everything gone wrong for the New York Mets.

The Phillies were expecting him.

"If it was me," manager Charlie Manuel said, "I would have been here two days ago. But it's not me."

"I was surprised this morning that he didn't show up," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "It happens."

Castillo's tryout with the Phillies shrunk to eight games because of what he called a "miscommunication between me and my agents." After driving across the state, he entered the team's complex about five hours later than the team planned. That cost him a chance to play in Tuesday's Grapefruit League game against Toronto.

The 35-year-old second baseman underwent his physical Tuesday afternoon and is expected to be in Manuel's lineup Wednesday. He believes he can prove his worth.

"I feel like I'm starting to play baseball again," Castillo said. "Like I'm a rookie. I know a lot of stuff is coming out. I'm trying to forget the past. I'm trying to focus and play, and I want an opportunity here."

That chance exists, despite the delay. Amaro and Manuel said there will be no effect on Castillo's status because of the snafu, only that the team has one fewer day to evaluate whether he can help.

Castillo is confident he will be able to not only provide depth but also start at second, where the void left by Chase Utley's chronic knee pain is large. Utility man Wilson Valdez is the favorite to start at second April 1.

"I'm fighting for a job here," Castillo said. "I want to compete and I want to win the job. I want to play."

He hasn't played in a week, but Castillo said he's been working out and taking batting practice. He said he's in his best shape in five years. But scouts and other observers at Mets camp this spring questioned Castillo's quickness and durability.

"It bothers me a little bit, but that's the chance I have here," Castillo said. "I have an opportunity to show I can still play. That's why I'm here. That's what I'm going to try to do."

Amaro has said that if Castillo doesn't make the team he will not go to the minors, even though he signed a minor-league deal. The Phillies owe Castillo no money unless his contract is purchased, which will happen if he makes the opening-day roster.

The Mets will pay nearly all of the $6 million Castillo is due in 2011. They unceremoniously cut him on Friday despite cash problems and no clear replacement at second. "It's New York," Castillo said. "You know how New York is."

Castillo, who was 8 for 28 in Grapefruit League play with the Mets, found himself on the bench and requested a meeting with manager Terry Collins.

"I needed a chance to play," Castillo said. "He wouldn't give me a chance to play."

He was late, but the chance exists in Philadelphia. Beginning Wednesday, Castillo has eight exhibition games to salvage a career.

"Anybody would be excited to play for the Phillies," Castillo said. "I feel good. I'm happy to be here."

Extra bases. Cliff Lee allowed two runs on four hits in six innings of the Phillies' 5-4 victory over the Blue Jays. "I felt like I could have kept going," Lee said. "At this point in spring, that's where you need to be." . . . Ben Francisco had three hits to raise his spring average to .365 (19 for 52). . . . Raul Ibanez hit his third home run of the spring, a three-run, first-inning shot.


Contact staff writer Matt Gelb at mgelb@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/magelb

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