Rusney Castillo returns from oblique injury with bang

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Takeaways from the Fort, where Rusney Castillo sent a majestic message to Mookie Betts in the Boston Red Sox’s 11-5 loss to the Baltimore Orioles on Friday at JetBlue Park:

While Castillo has been nursing a strained oblique that has prevented him from playing in any spring training games, Betts has been starting in center field -- Castillo’s presumed spot -- and tearing it up, with a .437 batting average.

But Castillo, in his first at-bat of the Grapefruit League, launched a stunning, three-run home run off the top façade of the Green Monster in left-center field, just to the right of the yellow line and almost 40 feet above the 379-foot sign.

Welcome back, Rusney.

“He steps in and makes a pretty quick impression,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “Not just because of squaring up the ball, but the way he drove it. And he’s starting tomorrow and continuing to get regular at-bats.”

In the current issue of Baseball America, five of nine experts picked Betts to be MLB’s breakout star of 2015, with one choosing Castillo. It will be interesting to see how the Red Sox outfield shakes out. Will Shane Victorino stay healthy enough to hold down the right-field job? Will Betts pick up where he left off at the end of the past season?

The answers won’t be known for a while, but Friday certainly offered a tantalizing glimpse of what Castillo can do.

In the seventh inning, with Matt Spring on second base and Christian Vazquez on first, Castillo took a 2-1 fastball from right-hander Steve Johnson and sent it soaring.

“I’m not going to say I was sitting fastball,” Castillo said through interpreter Adrian Lorenzo. “I was just trying to put a good swing on the pitch and drive the ball up the middle, and that’s what happened. It felt pretty good coming off the bat.

“I was obviously happy it turned out to be a home run, but more than anything, I was just happy that I was able to go out there completely healthy and pain-free, and I felt really good out there. It’s really good to be back out there.”

Castillo said that despite going hitless in two minor league appearances earlier this week, he found a rhythm that gave him confidence going into Friday's game. The time he had missed and the pressure of living up to the seven-year, $75.5 million contract he signed the past August after leaving Cuba? Not things he thought about. He’s living in the moment.

“Baseball is my one safe haven,” he said. “I’ve just never felt pressure playing, even with the contract and everything. It’s not something I think about.”

The bigger issue is living day to day without his entire family. His wife is here, and she is pregnant with the couple’s first child, due in May. But Rusney Jr., who will turn 3 in April, remains in Cuba.

“Probably the biggest adjustment is to not have my family around,” he said. “I obviously miss them a lot. But the good thing is I’ve been able to come to a good organization, and I’ve been able to keep my mind off it when I’m playing baseball. So it’s made it a little easier.”

• Right-hander Justin Masterson appears to be regaining his fastball velocity.

He reached 92 mph in his fourth and final inning Friday, when he got out of a one-out, two-on jam with Ryan Lavarnway’s double-play grounder to Pablo Sandoval. His average fastball was 93.1 mph in 2013, but in 2014, after a series of injuries that decimated his season and his confidence, his average fastball was 90.3 mph.

“I’d love it to be 99,” Masterson said after giving up one run on four hits in four innings and throwing strikes on 46 of 76 pitches. “But you know, in the overall sense, I’m not totally concerned about it. … Last spring, I wasn’t behind the ball as well. So that’s more for me, feeling-wise.

“As long as I’m behind the baseball and it feels like it has a little bit of late life -- some of those that were 90, 91, some even 88s and 89s, had that, and that’s more important than just, ‘Oooh, I could come out at 95.’ I’ve thrown some at 95 and 97 and seen them go out [of the park] just as quick because they didn’t have much late life to them. As we continue to build the arm strength to a higher level, I imagine that velocity will continue to increase.”

Said Farrell, “Justin’s always a guy who’s going to have a fairly wide range. Even prior to the (2014) trade, when he was in Cleveland, his two-seamer was quite a bit off his four-seamer, so there’s going to be a 5-6 mph range he pitches in. But the last three times out, he’s flashing some better velocity inside of the outing. It’s not been consistent. I think that’s largely in part to getting back in shape and finding a stride direction that allows him to really get through the baseball and create a little better arm strength and velocity.”

Mike Napoli was scratched before the game due to right ankle soreness. He isn’t expected to be out more than a few days. He was replaced at first base by Brock Holt.

Alexi Ogando pitched one scoreless inning in a Triple-A game Friday at the Fenway South complex. He gave up one hit and struck two out while throwing strikes on 10 of 16 pitches.

Allen Craig has gotten plenty of at-bats this spring (27) and has done pretty well in them (.259 batting average, 1 HR, 3 RBIs). The challenge will be to get him regular at-bats once the season begins; Farrell previously has said Craig needs to stay in rhythm.

“That’s where we’ve got to work to maintain versatility, to maintain that we don’t go too long in between appearances and games played and at-bats accumulated,” Farrell said. “We’re not coming off the approach we took at the outset of spring training. Let’s focus on spring training. We’ve got to regain some of the things that made you the player you were prior to the foot injury, the player you were prior to the trade. And we’re working at that. That’s kind of kept our focus over the course of the six, seven weeks we’re down here. Beyond that, we’ll address it as it comes.”

• Mike Yastrzemski, wearing No. 85, made the trip from Sarasota, Florida, was a pinch runner in the sixth inning and went 0-for-2. His legendary grandfather, Hall of Famer Carl, reportedly was in the park. Mike, taken by the Orioles in the 14th round of the 2013 draft, had a big year in 2014, batting .288 with 14 HRs, 18 stolen bases and a minor league-leading 16 triples while playing for Class A Delmarva, High-Class A Frederick and Double-A Bowie.

• After optioning LHP Eduardo Rodriguez and C Blake Swihart to Triple-A Pawtucket, the Red Sox have 49 players in camp, including 13 non-roster invitees.

Wade Miley is scheduled to start in Bradenton against the Pirates on Saturday in one of 12 spring training games televised by NESN. Other scheduled pitchers: Matt Barnes, Heath Hembree, Dana Eveland, Robbie Ross and Dalier Hinjosa.