Cubs

Castros 200 hits just the beginning

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Castros 200 hits just the beginning

Friday, Sept. 23, 2011Posted: 7:20 p.m. Updated: 11:51 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com Cubs Insider Follow @CSNMooney
WATCH: Soriano happy for Castro

ST. LOUIS Starlin Castro has made it look easy.

It doesnt matter if Castros staring at a Cy Young Award winner or aSeptember call-up. Hes going to attack and be aggressive and go withhis instinctual feel for hitting.

Castro fouled off the games first pitch on Friday night. He drove thenext one from Chris Carpenter into center field. The line drive landedon Busch Stadiums green grass.

Someone threw the ball back into the dugout, which Castro plans to giveto his father back home in the Dominican Republic. Thats just one ofmany mementos that will be collected during what Castro believes couldbe a Hall of Fame career.

With that natural swing, Castro notched his 200th hit this season. Itcame during the first inning of a 5-1 victory that seriously damagedthe playoff hopes of the St. Louis Cardinals. He became the youngestCub in franchise history to reach the milestone, and the sixth-youngestto get there in major-league history.

Castro essentially has a Yeah, sure, why not? attitude to just aboutanything in this game. But hes definitely in elite company now. Since1900, only nine other players have reached 200 hits at the age of 21 oryounger, including: Alex Rodriguez, Al Kaline, Joe DiMaggio and Ty Cobb.

You got a potential superstar, Ryan Dempster said. He sure can hit.Its incredible his hand-eye coordination, his ability to put thebarrel of the bat on the ball. (Hes) just going to get better andbetter. The skys really the limit for him.

On this night, Dempster pitched six innings of one-run ball, andAlfonso Soriano blasted the go-ahead, three-run homer in the eighththat left the Cardinals (86-71) three games back in the wild-card racewith five to play. But very soon this entire Cubs team will revolvearound Castro.

(Its) performance on the field, Soriano said. You dont have totalk to be a leader. If he plays good, all those young guys around himare going to want to play like him.

Castro needed only 264 games and less than 1,000 at-bats in the minorsto prove that he was ready. The Cubs tried to downplay his offensivepotential and talked up his defensive range when he was promoted on May7 last year.

Castro then went out that night in Cincinnati and smashed a three-runhomer in his first at-bat and finished with six RBIs, a record for amajor-league debut.

The kids not afraid of the big moment. But even Jose Serra the scoutwho signed Castro out of the Dominican Republic almost five years ago had to admit: I didnt think at this time he was going to be in thebig leagues and doing the things that hes doing right now.

READ: Introducing the Cubs scout who found a huge Star(lin)

Castro has done it at Wrigley Field, on national television and infront of a demanding fan base. The All-Star shortstop was called out byESPNs Bobby Valentine and media members have speculated about a moveto another position. He keeps coming back for more.

Hes a really tough kid, bench coach Pat Listach said. He lovesplaying the game and he took it personal when he was criticized (and)I would have, too. But all he can do is (play). The people that aresaying these things about him and writing these things about him dontknow how hard it is to go out there and play that game every day.

Manager Mike Quade has pushed and disciplined Castro, the same way heonce coached up future American League MVP Miguel Tejada in Double-Aball. With Aramis Ramirez set to leave as a free agent, maybe the Cubswont need a traditional power-hitting third baseman. At the veryleast, they have a player to build their lineup around for the nextdecade.

No matter how good Cassie is andor becomes, you still want tosurround him with the best people available, Quade said. Were stillin projection mode with him. I think we have a really nice player. Fromthe power standpoint, it looks like hes heading in that direction. ButIm kind of a Missouri guy: Show me.

Castro feels like he has it all mapped out. Bat .300, get 200 hits andmake the All-Star team. Every year. He knows he has to cut down on hiserrors (28) to win a Gold Glove. Hes learned English because he wantsthe clubhouse responsibilities and the marketing opportunities.

Im working hard, Castro said, in preparation to be a complete superstar.

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

"He belongs here": What to expect from top prospect Adbert Alzolay's first major league start

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USA Today

"He belongs here": What to expect from top prospect Adbert Alzolay's first major league start

A big part of the Cubs’ MO during the Epstein Era has been the team’s reliance on veteran pitchers. Whether it’s Jon Lester’s cutter, Cole Hamels’ changeup, or Jose Quintana’s sinker, it’s been a while since other teams have had to step into the box against a Cubs starter without much of a scouting report. On the surface, uncertainty from a starting pitcher may sound like a bad thing, but it’s that same apprehension that makes Cubs’ prospect Adbert Alzolay’s first major league start so exciting. 

“There’s energy when you know the guy’s good,” Joe Maddon said before Tuesday’s game. “There’s absolutely energy to be derived. But there’s also curiosity. Let’s see if this is real or not. I think he answered that call.” 

The good news for Alzolay and the Cubs is that much of the usual baggage that comes with one’s first major league start is already out of the way. All of the milestones that can get into a young pitchers head -- first strikeout, first hit, first home run allowed, etc -- took place during Alzolay’s four-inning relief appearance back against the Mets on June 20th. 

“I want to believe that that would help,” Maddon added. “It was probably one of the best ways you could break in someone like that. We had just the ability to do it because of the way our pitching was set up, and I think going into tonight’s game, there’s less unknown for him.”

It also helps that Alzolay will have fellow Venezuelan countryman Willson Contreras behind the plate calling his first game. There’s even a sense of novelty from Contreras’ end too. 

“[Catching someone’s debut] is really fun for me,” he said on Tuesday. “It’s a big challenge for me today. I’m looking forward to it. I’m really proud of Alzolay, and I know where he comes from - I know him from Venezuela. It’s going to be fun.”

Tuesday's plan for Alzolay doesn’t involve a specific innings limit. Maddon plans to let the rookie go as long as he can before he “gets extended, or comes out of his delivery,” as the manager put it. On the mound, he’s a flyball pitcher with good control that works quickly. Expect to see a healthy dosage of 4-seamers that sit in the mid-90’s alongside a curveball and changeup that have both seen improvements this year. 

Against the Mets, it was his changeup was the most effective strikeout pitch he had going, with three of his five K’s coming that way. It’s typically not considered his best offspeed offering, but as Theo Epstein put it on Monday afternoon, “[Alzolay] was probably too amped and throwing right through the break,” of his curveball that day.  

It’s obviously good news for the Cubs if he continues to flash three plus pitches, long the barometer of a major league starter versus a bullpen guy. Even if he doesn’t quite have the feel for all three yet, it’s his beyond-the-years demeanor that has those within the organization raving. 

“The confidence he showed during his first time on the mound, as a young pitcher, that’s a lot,” Contreras said. “That’s who he can be, and the command that he has of his pitches is good, especially when he’s able to go to his third pitch.” 

Willson Contreras, Jon Lester carry Cubs to eventful win in the first game of the series with Atlanta

Willson Contreras, Jon Lester carry Cubs to eventful win in the first game of the series with Atlanta

The Cubs and Braves got through roughly one inning of Stranger Things Night at Wrigley Field before Willson Contreras made the evening his own. 

The catcher went 2-4 with three RBI, and provided the most notable moment from the game: a 2nd inning solo homer that caused both benches to clear. Contreras had taken issue with a few of the called strikes earlier in the at-bat, and said something to home plate umpire John Tumpane about it. Contreras continued to make his feelings known as he left the box, drawing the ire of Braves catcher Tyler Flowers.

“To be honest, those pitches weren’t even close to the strike zone,” he said. “[Flowers] got mad because I was talking to the umpire about that, and he jumped into the conversation. 

Contreras then proceeded to shout in the direction of Atlanta’s dugout while rounding first base, and the two catchers exchanged more words as he crossed home plate. The benches quickly emptied, and after a few moments of posturing, returned to their dugouts. 

“It was a lot of emotions together,” he said after the game. “I was having a conversation with the umpire, and it ended up with [Flowers], so that’s all I can say. I just basically told him to do his job and I’ll do mine. I don’t know why he got pissed off because that’s all I said - you do your job and i’ll do mine.”

“I was kind of amused by the whole thing,” Joe Maddon added. “I don’t really know Mr. Flowers - we had a nice conversation, walked away, and it was over. It really wasn’t worth more than what happened.

The confrontation was just one of a few testy moments between these two teams. In the top of the 2nd inning, Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson was caught on cameras shushing the Cubs dugout: 

Two innings later, it was Javy Baez who returned serve by blowing the Braves a kiss after stealing second on Flowers: 

“It’s fun because they’re good,” Maddon said. “And we’re good - that’s the fun part. Monday night, at 7:05, to have that kind of attitude and atmosphere is outstanding. That’s what baseball needs.” 

On the mound, Jon Lester bounced back from a run of three straight underwhelming performances. June hasn’t been kind to Lester, as the lefty had allowed 14 runs over the last 23 IPs prior to Monday’s start, good for a 5.93 FIP. He threw 94 pitches against the Braves, lasting six innings while allowing two runs -- both unearned, though -- and striking out seven. He only threw 94 pitches, but his control (0 BB) was excellent. Lester spotted his strikeout pitch well all night, getting four of his six right-handed K’s on the low outside corner:

“I just tried to stay down there, and had the backdoor cutter to those guys,” Lester said. “We were able to kind of exploit that, and then when we felt that guys were reaching out there a little bit, I ran the cutter in on some guys too. I was just able to command both sides of the plate tonight, which is huge against an offense like that.” 

“Great job by Jon,” Maddon added, “Jon had great stuff. Coming off of [throwing 114 pitches], he’s been throwing a lot of pitches on regular rest, so I wanted to limit that tonight. He was lobbying to go back out, but I didn’t feel good about it based on the longevity of the season and we had a rested Kintzler.

“But Jon was really good, and really good against a tough lineup.”