"I want an opportunity," Castillo said a few hours later, after he played a mostly anonymous role in the Phillies' 4-1 loss to the host Rays. "I have 6 more days to prove I can be here."
When the Phillies sit down to finalize their Opening Day roster, the last thing they will look at are Castillo's numbers. You do not bring in a 15-year veteran for the last week of spring training and judge him on his on-base percentage over a seven-game stretch. The things they are looking for are things you can only see in person: the way he responds to Sam Perlozzo, as the infield and baserunning coach gives him a pregame rundown of the Phillies' signs; the way he interacts with Rollins, his potential doubleplay mate in the middle of the infield; the way his foot speed looks in real time, the way he navigates his assigned defensive zone.
Manager Charlie Manuel said 2 days ago that Castillo was not guaranteed anything other than a chance to convince the Phillies that the conventional wisdom was wrong. That he was not too old, too slow, too limited defensively to contribute on an everyday basis.
While Manuel has done a solid job of hiding whatever enthusiasm he might feel about the Phillies' decision to sign Castillo to a nonguaranteed minor league deal, the manager and his coaching staff are interested in learning what the 35-year-old still has left.
"I think we all are," Perlozzo said shortly after he finished briefing Castillo on the basics of the team's defensive signals. "I think that's why we got him over here, to see if his skill level is still good enough to play every day, or if it's not."
When the Mets released Castillo last Friday with 1 year and $6 million remaining on his contract, they sent him drifting into an uncertain future. His tenure in New York had ended in large part because he was perceived as an overpaid, underperforming player who was frustrated with the way his manager was using him. Many scouts who watched him play whispered privately that he was finished, that he could no longer run and man his position the way he did when winning three Gold Gloves and earning three All-Star berths.
Yesterday did not reveal much, other than Castillo's apparent relief to be back on a baseball field. Whether it was his pregame chat with Rollins about doubleplay balls or the handshake he offered to the little kid dressed as a lime who won a between-innings race sponsored by the Florida Citrus Growers, he looked relaxed and engaged.
The first ball the Rays put in play went to Castillo, a routine grounder from Ben Zobrist that the second baseman easily gloved and threw to first. But over the next seven innings, he was directly involved in just one other play, a fourth-inning outfield assist from Raul Ibanez, who caught B.J. Upton trying to stretch a single into a double.
At the plate, Castillo went 0-for-4 with a soft groundout to first, a well-hit line drive that died in the glove of Rays second baseman Felipe Lopez, another groundout, and then a popout.
Afterward, Manuel spoke with a hint of surprise about Castillo's conditioning. Later, the infielder confirmed that he had shed 12 pounds in the offseason, working with a trainer in Miami to help ease the load on his aging knees and feet.
"A change of scenery sometimes can do wonders for you," Manuel said. "Seriously. Ask [Wilson] Valdez. Ask Jayson Werth. A different team, who it is, what it is, who the players are, that can make a lot of difference."
Valdez, of course, is the current front-runner to start the season at second base in place of the injured Chase Utley. He left the Mets after the 2009 season and signed as a nonroster invitee with the Phillies. Eventually, he earned a spot on the major league roster and got positive reviews for his defensive work when Rollins was sidelined with calf, hamstring and foot injuries. Now, Castillo hopes to make a similar move.
"This year, I feel in better shape," said Castillo, who will earn $414,000 from the Phillies if he makes the major league roster. "I feel good. Tomorrow is a new day for me. I want to show I can play."
For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at www.philly.com/HighCheese. Follow him on Twitter at