June 4, 2008
By David Driver
Special to the Statesman Journal, used with permission
WASHINGTON — Kory Casto rode into town Tuesday, hoping to save the Washington Nationals from its offensive woes. And the Nationals put him right into the starting lineup as manager Manny Acta searched for some punch.
Well, perhaps the Wild West analogy is a little overblown. In reality, the Salem native flew to the nation's capital after he was called up from Triple A Columbus of the International League. He was called up twice last season by the Nats.
"I really feel I am in a better place than last year," Casto said after Tuesday's 6-1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. "I kind of experienced what it was like last year. There is a little bit less awe. It was really a nice surprise" to be promoted.
Casto was promoted to the Nationals the same day starting third baseman Ryan Zimmerman was placed on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to May 26, with a small labral tear in his left (non-throwing) shoulder. Casto joined a club with a team batting average of .231, the lowest mark in the National League.
He was somewhat overlooked in spring training as the Nats acquired some new outfielders. "It was understood I was going to Triple," he said. "I had no problem with that."
"It is well deserved. Bottom-line he worked his butt off to get where he is," Columbus hitting coach Rick Eckstein said Tuesday night from Syracuse, N.Y.
"Kory has a chance to be a very special player. His strike zone discipline is very good. He has a good swing. He has a chance to put up some power numbers. He can do a lot of things for the club."
Casto, 26, a left-handed hitter, started in right field and batted sixth for the Nationals in the first of a three-game series. He had one hit in three at bats.
"He swung the bat well," Acta said. "He is going to get at-bats here." Acta said Casto can expect to see time in right, third base and left.
Bobby Williams, director of player development for Washington, said in an e-mail after Tuesday's game:
"He got off to a decent start this year in Columbus, but an unfortunate hand injury early in April sidelined him just over a month. He worked extremely hard to get back and returned to action quicker than we expected. He was swinging the bat well in Columbus, driving in runs and playing good defense."
The North Marion High School graduate recorded his first major league outfield assist in the top of the second inning. He snared a line drive off the bat of Brian Barton and fired to Washington first baseman Dmitri Young to double off Cesar Izturis.
Casto flew out to left field in his first at bat in the last of the second inning in his first major league plate appearance this season. With a runner on second in the last of the fifth, Casto lined a solid single to right field off St. Louis starter Kyle Lohse to put runners on first and third. That single broke a streak of 16 consecutive hitless at-bats by Casto at the big-league level.
Ryan Langerhans followed with a groundout to drive in the first run for Washington. In the last of the seventh against Cards reliever Russ Springer, Casto grounded out to short to end the inning with a runner on first.
St. Louis led 4-0 in the top of the fourth when the game was delayed by rain for nearly two hours. The Cards led 5-0 when the game was delayed in the top of the fifth for nearly one hour. The game ended a little past midnight EST with a few hundred people in the stands.
Casto hit .315 (28 for 89) with four doubles, three home runs, 16 RBI and an on-base average of .390 in 22 games with Columbus. The Clippers, the top farm club of the Nationals, began a series in Syracuse, N.Y. on Tuesday.
The former University of Portland standout was drafted in the third round by the Montreal/Washington franchise in 2003. He was the minor league player of the year for the franchise in 2005 and 2006.
Last season he began the year with Columbus but was called up for Washington's second game of the season when outfielder Nook Logan was injured. In his major league debut, Casto had one hit in four at-bats with a walk against Florida on April 3, 2007.
In two stints with the Nationals last season Casto hit .130 with seven hits in 54 at-bats over 16 games. Casto hit .246 (101 for 411) last season with Columbus, with 11 homers, four steals and 55 RBIs.
Casto began 2008 with a batting average of .270 in 2,142 minor league at bats in 584 games, with 73 homers and a slugging percentage of .450.