FILE - In this Aug. 17, 2015, file photo, Houston Astros Jason Castro walks to the dugout after striking out in the sixth inning of a baseball game against the Tampa Bay Rays in Houston. Jason Castro helped Houston's pitching staff become one of the most
Patric Schneider, File
March 08, 2016

KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) Jason Castro helped Houston's pitching staff become one of the AL's best last season.

The catcher's success, however, didn't extend to his bat. He had his worst offensive performances he was a rookie 2010.

''I tried to make some changes that I think have been due,'' Castro said, ''really tried to take a step back after the season was over and assess what I needed to do. And I worked hard this offseason really trying to make those adjustments and to get them to stick.''

Castro was selected for the All-Star Game in 2013, when he set career bests with a .276 average and 18 homers to go along with 56 RBIs. His average dropped to .222 in 2014, but he still managed 14 homers and again had 56 RBIs. And last year his production fell to .211 with 11 homers and just 31 RBIs.

He knew he needed to make adjustments at the plate but decided it was too difficult to revamp during the season.

''It was something that I would work on on the side,'' he said, ''but realized that for it to be a meaningful, lasting change it probably wouldn't be something that would really come to fruition until I could really focus on it in the offseason.''

Manager A.J. Hinch is eager to see whether the adjustments are effective. Castro is 1 for 6 with a walk in three spring training games.

''In practice, he's shown a little bit of a different hand path where his hands start,'' Hinch said. ''Some of his balance he's trying to keep. I think he's trying not to hit off his heels ... I think the difficulty becomes if you can take it into games.''

Castro insists he's made a significant mechanical alteration he believes will lead to improvement.

''It allows me to make adjustments easier,'' he said. ''It allows me to get to more pitches, to be able to adjust and not have to be so perfectly on time. It allows me to have a larger margin of error in hitting and that's the goal.''

While he spent the offseason focused on his hitting, he did take a little time to appreciate the work of Houston's pitching staff last year. Dallas Keuchel won the AL Cy Young Award and Collin McHugh finished with a career-high 19 wins, second in the AL behind Keuchel's 20 victories. They both credited Castro's work behind the plate for aiding in their success.

Castro has been the catcher for most of Keuchel's starts since debuting as a rookie in 2012.

''To see him turn himself into one of the best pitchers in baseball has been pretty cool to see,'' Castro said. ''From a stuff standpoint, he's always had it. It was just about kind of figuring out how to put it together at this level and then being able to make adjustments and stay consistent. He's been one of the best at that.''

Castro has watched the Astros improve from 100-game losers to contender. Houston reached the playoffs for the first time in a decade last year, beat the New York Yankees in the AL wild-card game and lost to eventual World Series champion Kansas City in a five-game Division Series.

''Obviously, we have most of the guys back that were on the team last year, and I think that really kind of adds to the enthusiasm and optimism for the 2016 season,'' he said. ''So you can definitely feel it. Guys expect to win now, and it's a nice atmosphere change around here.''

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