Cubs

Believe the hype: Castros as good as advertised

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Believe the hype: Castros as good as advertised

Sunday, April 17, 2011Posted: 4:10 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

DENVER Starlin Castro didnt understand anything. Hed sit down at a restaurant in Daytona, Fla. If the menu didnt have any pictures, then, well, he wasnt going to eat.

The game came naturally. Castros father wanted a baseball player and called his son Starlin because it was a real ballplayers name in the Dominican Republic.

When Castro returned home to Monte Cristy this winter, he could feel that he was being looked at differently, like a big-league man.

Its the same in the Cubs clubhouse, where Castros no longer a rookie but the teams most dynamic player. He gets it walking the downtown streets in Chicago, and its all so new that he still enjoys being recognized.

Those close to Castro could see this coming. Vice president of player personnel Oneri Fleita, who oversees Latin America for the Cubs, stressed the importance of learning the language and told him that he didnt need an interpreter at his side.

Castro rubbed his fingers together while recalling what his agent, Paul Kinzer, told him: If you dont speak English, you dont make money.

By now, its clear that everyone will want a piece of Castro. At 21 years and 24 days old, the shortstop is the youngest player in the majors, but he carries himself at a level far beyond that. He woke up Sunday morning batting .397 and leading the majors in hits (25).

I dont think anything surprises me anymore, catcher Koyie Hill said. After his first at-bat in Cincinnati, it should have all been downhill from there. But hes proved us wrong every day.

Now its time to believe the hype. Castro homered in his first at-bat and set a major-league record with six RBI in his debut last year. But hes proven that he values his craft and can do it once the adrenaline wears off.

Castros batting .336 since the All-Star break last season no one else in the National League has more hits during that time. More than that, its his approach, the way he knows the strike zone and works 13-pitch at-bats.

Cubs pitcher Casey Coleman, who once played with Castro at Double-A Tennessee, pointed to the three-run bomb he hit Saturday night off Rockies reliever Felipe Paulino into the left-field seats.

His ability is amazing, but his baseball smarts are even better, Coleman said. He knows what pitchers are trying to do with him and his hands are so quick. The home-run (pitch) was down and in off the plate, 95 mph. You dont see that, especially from a young guy.

Castro does not get fooled at the plate. The analytics on the website FanGraphs show that hes made contact almost 92 percent of the time when he swings. He has an advanced understanding of what he wants to do, but is still only scratching the surface.

Im so happy with him, manager Mike Quade said. It would be really fun to see him gain a little bit more discipline and maybe lay off some of those pitches that are off the plate and really put him in good situations pitch-count wise. (But) right now, hes doing things just fine. I got nothing to say except: Keep going, kid.

The other night, Alfonso Soriano walked into the clubhouse and smiled when he saw Castro surrounded by reporters doing a postgame interview. Soriano takes great pride in Castros development and yelled out: Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!

Soriano had told Castro that you have to talk to the media when you play like this.

He goes 0-for-4 and the next day hes got four hits. Its incredible, Soriano said. He does not get down.

Castro stayed with Soriano last year but has his own place now. His family lived with him during spring training and will come to Chicago in May for the rest of the season.

Castros face doesnt hide what hes thinking. He smiles easily and his eyes widen when he gets excited, then narrow when hes trying to make a point. He lounges at his locker while talking on the phone. His body language says: I was born to do this.

Its easy to envision Castro on more billboards and in more commercials. But all that is secondary for someone who takes this very seriously. He attacked the language studies because hes looking to improve. He learned more English watching ESPN and the MLB Network. This is a singular focus.

Baseball is my work, Castro said.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

The Cubs are so good on defense, they even elicited an emotional reaction from Kyle Hendricks

The Cubs are so good on defense, they even elicited an emotional reaction from Kyle Hendricks

Kyle Hendricks never shows emotion on the mound.

Never.

That's what made his simple gesture — mouthing the word "wow" — during Thursday night's 1-0 win over the Brewers so intriguing.

Albert Almora Jr. had just made a nice running catch on the warning track in dead center in the top of the sixth inning, yet another highlight-reel play from the young outfielder.

Hendricks thought it was an extra-base hit for Brewers leadoff hitter Lorenzo Cain, but Almora turned it into Out No. 2 in the inning.

"I see the ball hit, I'm just hoping to keep it to a double at that point," Hendricks said. "And then when he reaches his glove up and catches it, yeah, it's an instant reaction. 

"You're not expecting that at all. I think I mouthed that over to [Tommy] La Stella at third base; he said the same thing. It was a hell of a catch. That's what he's been doing lately. It's fun to watch him out there."

Hendricks pitches so devoid of any emotion, he's even poked fun at himself by using Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion" as his walk-up song.

His Cubs teammates — including Kyle Schwarber Thursday night — describe Hendricks as pitching with "no pulse out there." If you just watched his reactions and body language, you wouldn't know if he's throwing a no-hitter or getting shelled.

Hendricks also works quickly, always keeping his defense on his toes. He struck out only 5 batters in 7 shutout innings Thursday, so he needed to rely on his defense a bunch.

It wasn't just Almora that stepped up behind Hendricks. Javy Baez made a spectacular leaping grab and also turned a lightning-quick double play to get the Cubs out of a jam. And Anthony Rizzo did his usual work with a couple of nice plays the night after committing his first error in more than a calendar year (a Cubs record). 

Schwarber — who provided the only offense of the game with a lined shot into the Budweiser patio in right field — loves standing in left field and watching his teammates play defense.

"Everybody's talking about Almora," Schwarber said. "I saw that in High-A, the way that he goes after balls and he's able to get there. 

"It's just a lot of fun to watch him go out there and make those catches. And obviously Javy out there, too, just Javy being Javy."

The Cubs don't appear to be on a trajectory toward following in the footsteps of the 2016 team that played defense at a historic level, but they also proved in the series opener with the Brewers that they can still win with pitching and defense.

With the starting rotation looking more like themselves and the weather conditions getting back to normal, the defense can once again settle in as a strength of this team.

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 6th homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 6th homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa once again terrorized the Padres for his sixth homer of 1998, coming as his last blast in the month of April.

Slammin' Sammy went deep in the first inning, a two-run shot off San Diego starter Joey Hamilton for 434 feet, his longest shot of the campaign to date. It staked the Cubs to an early lead they did not relinquish in a 3-1 victory.

Six down, 60 to go.

It's crazy to see how slow of a start Sosa got to a record-setting season, but I guess 20 homers in one month will get you back on track pretty quickly.

Fun fact: Kevin Tapani shut down a Padres lineup that included Tony Gwynn, Steve Finley, Ken Caminiti and Greg Vaughn, holding San Diego to just one run in 8 innings. Rod Beck picked up his 8th save on the year.

Fun fact 2: The game took just over two hours (2:06) to complete, as both starting pitchers worked quickly and efficiently and each team made just one pitching change apiece.