It was not surprising to see Rockies third baseman Vinny Castilla crack three home runs in his first nine at bats this season. Castilla has never been a patient hitter, hi fact, the first two homers came on the first pitches of Opening Day at bats against the Diamondbacks' Andy Benes and Clint Sodowsky. All told, 36 of Castilla's last 83 homers have come on first pitches.
While Castilla has tried to be more selective, striking out only once in his first 22 at bats in '98, he still takes wild hacks at bad breaking balls and is such an eager hitter that as Rockies manager Don Baylor says, "Vinny doesn't know when they're trying to pitch around him." Still, Castilla isn't likely to alter his basic approach.
After three unspectacular years in the Braves' farm system and two more with Colorado, which plucked him from Atlanta in the '92 expansion draft, Castilla had not hit more than 14 home runs in a season. Then, with sluggers Larry Walker and Dante Bichette batting in front of him in '95, Castilla found his power stroke and socked 32 home runs, followed by back-to-back seasons in which he hit .304 with 40 homers and 113 RBIs. "There isn't much of a secret to my success," says Castilla, who remains in the shadows of his fellow Rockies sluggers. "I want every pitcher to try to throw his best fastball past me."
It's a mystery why any pitcher would still challenge Castilla with heat, because there is no better high fastball hitter in the majors. Rockies batting coach Clint Hurdle explains that the lift in Castilla's swing is conducive to hitting in the upper part of the strike zone, where fastballs that leave the yard are often thrown. Hurdle also believes that while the 6'1", 200-pound Castilla has an ordinary build, he possesses superior hand-eye coordination and the strongest hands and wrists of any Colorado hitter. "Vinny has a high-risk, high reward type swing" Hurdle says. "I think he could pull a bullet."
Castilla's success against some of the hardest throwers in the game supports Hurdle's hyperbole. In addition to launching a Benes fastball for his first homer this season, Castilla hit two game-winning shots off Astros closer Billy Wagner last year. He homered off the Braves' Mark Wohlers in '96, and he is 5 for 8 lifetime against flamethrower Robb Nen, who moved this year from the Marlins to the Giants.
Castilla's mindset is ideally suited to these hardball showdowns. "He thrives on it," Hurdle says. "He's always drinking, I'm going to be the hero. You can strike Vinny out nine times in a row, and the 10th time, he still thinks he's going to take you out of the park."
Who's in Left?
The 12th Man In Wrigley
Henry Rodriguez became the Cubs' 12th straight new Opening Day leftfielder, following Brian Dayett ('87), Rafael Palmeiro, Mitch Webster, Lloyd McClendon, George Bell, Luis Salazar, Candy Maldonado, Derrick May, Scott Bullett, Luis Gonzalez and '97 experiment Brant Brown.
Who's in Right?
II Is the Loneliest Number
Darren Bragg became Boston's 11th Opening Day rightfielder in 11 years, following Mike Greenwell ('88), Dwight Evans, Kevin Romine, Tom Brunansky, Phil Plantier, Andre Dawson, Billy Hatcher, Mark Whiten, Troy O'Leary and memorable '97 discovery Rudy Pemberton.
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