PITTSBURGH — Are the Cubs discussing scenarios where Starlin Castro isn’t the everyday shortstop anymore?
Manager Joe Maddon wouldn’t answer that question directly, filibustering during his media session before Wednesday’s 7-5 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park.
But that might as well be a “yes” when the Cubs have Addison Russell playing to Castro’s left, Javier Baez tearing it up at Triple-A Iowa and dominoes that will start falling once Miguel Montero becomes part of a three-catcher rotation again.
Maddon pointed to Castro’s two RBI doubles in Tuesday’s 5-0 win over the Pirates, looking for any signs of a hot streak from an All-Star talent with a .578 OPS that ranked 156th out of the 159 big-league players qualified for batting titles.
“I like what he’s doing,” Maddon said. “That game last night illustrates what he can look like on a nightly basis. Again, we talk about a lot of different things, but that’s the kind of game I believe he’s capable of on a real consistent basis.
“I know I have not been around here long enough and people get frustrated. But I see a 25-year-old shortstop with a lot of ability.”
Phasing out Castro doesn’t have to be anything as dramatic as the trades Theo Epstein’s front office explored leading up to the July 31 deadline. (What used to be seen as a team-friendly contract — which guarantees Castro four years and $38 million after this season — has become problematic.)
Maddon keeps talking about how he wants to maximize matchups, gains edges anywhere he can and keep players fresh throughout the marathon season.
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“Just come in here every day to try to show them something,” Castro said. “I have talent, and I’ve done it before. Just keep positive and keep fighting.”
The Cubs want Kyle Schwarber’s bat in the lineup and have essentially ruled out the idea of the rookie catching Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta. Assuming his sprained left thumb feels good enough, Montero could be cleared to play this weekend at Wrigley Field against the San Francisco Giants, the defending World Series champions.
If Schwarber takes over in left field, that means Chris Coghlan can give Kris Bryant a break from third base — particularly if a flyball pitcher is on the mound — or free up Russell to move from second base to shortstop.
Again, so much of this depends on the opponent and what the numbers say. These variables should impact Jorge Soler, who isn’t hitting for power now and doesn’t look all that smooth in right field. The Cubs will also get a chance to use a designated hitter against the White Sox on the South Side (Aug. 14-16).
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Maddon doesn’t want anyone caught off-guard — or finding out through the media — and will keep running through the options with Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer.
“We’ll sit down and figure it out,” Maddon said. “We’ve already had like back-and-forth suggestions. That will be the final discussion when we get back home. They know what I’m thinking. I don’t really necessarily know what they’re thinking.”
This isn’t personal with Castro, who enjoys playing for Maddon and insists he can turn his entire season around with one great month. It’s just that the Cubs have something to play for now and can’t write everything off as building for the future.
“Everybody’s going to look at his batting average (.238), and I understand that,” Maddon said. “But he’s almost close to 50 RBIs (46) right now, and he’s gotten some really big hits for us.
“The thing I’m most impressed with is I didn’t know he was this good on defense. He’s made some real elementary mistakes, absolutely. But he’s made some really good plays, too. I still look at his birth certificate.
“Everybody talks about his hitting. (But) he’s capable of a lot out there. We just got to pull it out of him.”