Injury slows down hot Casali
The ball ended up being a home run, not a double, but busting it around first base before he saw the ball was gone, Casali felt his left hamstring tighten and he knew something was wrong.
“I felt fine before the game, during the game,” Casali said by phone from Tampa. “Even though it ended up being a home run, I didn’t know it at the time. I thought it might have a better chance to be a double. I was running hard, hustling out of the box. Just as I was about to cross over to first base I took a bad step and I knew something was wrong.”
The timing could not have been worse for Casali, a New Canaan native, as the Rays sat just 21/2 games back in the Wild Card race at the time and Casali was playing the best baseball of his rookie season before hitting the 15-day disabled list.
“It’s terrible timing,” Casali said. “I had been hitting well and we are in a pennant race but I have full faith in our trainers and don’t anticipate missing any more time than the 15 days.”
The Rays are currently 31/2 games out of the Wild Card but will be without Casali when the team comes to New York to face the Yankees this weekend in an important series for both teams.
.238 batting average
10 home runs
Highlights: All-State football and baseball player at New Canaan High School. ... Played at Vanderbilt University. ... Drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 10th round of the 2011 Major League Baseball Draft. ... Was traded from the Tigers to the Tampa Bay Rays on March 25, 2013. ... Casali played his first major league game against the Minnesota Twins on July 18, 2014, recording a hit in his first at bat.
Prior to the injury Casali was on fire, including back-to-back games with two home runs, making him the second rookie catcher in Major League history to accomplish the feat, according to the Elias Sports Bureau with the other being Seattle’s Kenji Johjima in 2006.
He has 10 home runs and 18 RBI since his promotion to go along with a .238 batting average.
“Hitting home runs is not what I try to do,” said Casali, whose six home runs in the month of July were the most ever by a Rays catcher in a single month, passing John Flaherty. “I have been in good positions with guys getting on base in front of me, allowing me to drive in runs. Hitting behind Kevin Kiermaier has been great because he is on base so much.”
After a cup of coffee in the majors last year, Casali began this season at AAA Durham before being called back up in mid-June.
“As much as anyone on the team, Curt has made the most of his opportunity once he got here,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “He’s really done a nice job handling the pitchers and his home runs have obviously been a great boost to our offense. He has been a key part of our club especially the second half of the season.”
Casali and fellow catcher Bobby Wilson were locked in a battle for the back-up catching spot all spring training with Wilson eventually winning the job. Casali, however, was not get frustrated going to AAA, instead focusing on getting back to the majors any way he could.
“I’ll never forget when they sent him down at the beginning of the year. He was upset,” Rays TV analyst Orestes Destrade said during a broadcast after Casali’s second two-home run night. “I saw in his face he was going to go down to Triple A and work hard and he did and he has been rewarded and is making the most of it.”
Casali said when he made it to the majors last year it was a bit of a whirlwind as he adjusted to life in at the top level of his sport.
Getting called up is a difficult transition for any player, but catchers especially as they have to learn how to handle a pitching staff as well as focus on hitting.
This season, Casali credits a change in philosophy at the plate with his success there.
“I am a lot more comfortable in the big leagues now and able to hone in on what I have to do to be successful,” Casali said. “I changed my approach at the plate, trying to get to balls earlier and be more aggressive rather than trying to work counts. Getting more at bats also helps me be able to barrel up more balls.”
Casali said he has been able to find a nice balance between his offense and defense.
Casali has also built a comfortable rapport with Cash, Tamapa’s first-year manager and former catcher himself.
“It has been awesome working with Cash and he has helped me make big strides defensively and in terms of game calling,” Casali said. “Cash is great about being upfront with us about letting us know when we are going to be in the lineup so we can prepare ourselves to play.”
Casali should rejoin the team when his time on the DL is complete, hoping the team is still in the playoff hunt and hoping he can pick up where he left off before the injury.