After a slow start to his Triple-A career, Tigers prospect Nick Castellanos is heating up in a big way.
The 21-year-old left fielder went 3-for-5 with a two-run homer -- his third long ball in four games -- Wednesday afternoon as Toledo cruised past host Columbus, 9-4. The Mud Hens' victory was just their seventh in 32 games on the road this season.
"We've had some tough stretches this season, but I think everyone's hard work is really starting to pay off," Castellanos said. "Things are a lot more fun when you're winning, and we want to keep that going."
Castellanos, MLB.com's No. 20 prospect, batted .259 in April, .282 in May and is 9-for-20 (.450) with three home runs and six RBIs in his first five June games. He hit .320/.365/.451 for Class A Advanced Lakeland and Double-A Erie in 2012. In 130 games last season, the Florida native clubbed 10 homers; he has nine in his first 61 outings of the 2013 campaign.
"I've just been getting some good pitches to hit and getting good swings on them," he said.
Though he's batted cleanup lately after spending the early part of the season in the third spot, Castellanos said it didn't matter to him where he was slotted in the order.
"I'm concentrating on putting together four quality at-bats each game -- when they happen makes no difference to me."
Though Toledo entered the game with the worst record (20-40) and lowest-scoring offense (3.8 runs per game) in the International League, it didn't take the Mud Hens long to get to Columbus starter Joe Martinez. Toledo scored twice in the second inning, capped by Kevin Russo's solo homer, before posting crooked numbers in the fourth, fifth and sixth.
Castellanos singled in the first and grounded out to end the third before clubbing a two-run shot to left center, his ninth of the season, with one out in the fifth. After striking out in the sixth, he ripped a line-drive single to left in the eighth. It was Castellanos' ninth three-hit outing of the season, with four such efforts coming in his last 10 games.
The Tigers' top prospect had company in the Mud Hens' hit parade, as Toledo pounded out 16 hits in the win. Second baseman Brandon Douglas and third baseman Mike Cervenak contributed three hits apiece, Russo added a single to his solo blast and first baseman Jordan Lennerton went 1-for-4, extending his on-base streak to 37 games -- best in the IL this season.
Castellanos has been batting behind Lennerton in recent games and appreciates coming to the plate with him on base.
"I definitely see better pitches with men on base, so having him [on this streak] has been great."
Toledo also got a solid performance from starter Derek Hankins (2-3), who allowed three runs on just four hits over eight innings, matching his longest outing of the season. The veteran right-hander struck out four and walked two before giving way to fireballer Bruce Rondon in the ninth.
The 22-year-old Rondon came into the game having allowed just one run on nine hits over 20 2/3 Minor League innings for a 0.44 ERA but was unable to find the strike zone Wednesday afternoon. He walked four batters -- one of them with the bases loaded -- in two-thirds of an inning, throwing only 10 strikes in 30 pitches. Brayan Villarreal induced a groundout from Ezequiel Carrera to earn his first save of the season.
Columbus managed just four singles while losing for the 12th time in 14 games. Martinez fell to 1-5 with the defeat, allowing nine runs -- seven earned -- on 12 hits over six frames.
After splitting two games in Columbus, the two clubs shift to Toledo for a pair of games at Fifth Third Field on Thursday and Friday. The Mud Hens lead the season series, 4-3.