At age 25, Starlin Castro’s already a three-time All-Star, but the Cubs don’t really know what they’re going to get out of their shortstop from one night to the next.
That’s not a comforting thought for a team that’s seven games over .500 on June 15 and on pace for 90 wins.
But Joe Maddon – the fifth manager Castro has played for during his six seasons in the big leagues – continues to stress the positives and defend someone the Cubs hoped would develop into a franchise player.
“I know when he makes a mistake, it seems to be amplified,” Maddon said before bad weather postponed Monday night’s game against the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field. “But for the most part, I think he’s done a pretty good job.”
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May could have been Castro’s worst overall month since getting promoted from Double-A Tennessee five years ago. He hit .221 with a .539 OPS and committed eight errors in 28 games.
That followed a superb April where Castro looked more engaged at shortstop and energized by the possibility of playing for a contender, hitting .325 with a .758 OPS.
Maybe those walk-off hits against the Cincinnati Reds on back-to-back nights at Wrigley Field over the weekend mean things are beginning to click again.
“I’ve started feeling pretty good,” Castro said. “You just (have to be) ready to hit the fastball. I can hit the slider for a strike, or a curveball for a strike. Any breaking ball for a strike I could hit. The little problem that I had was looking for too many offspeed (pitches). And when they threw me the fastball, I’d be late. Now, I’m back looking for my fastball and getting ready for whatever pitch they throw me.”
After years of being the lightning rod and getting singled out for criticism, the Cubs are putting a positive spin on Castro. Probably because he is already such an accomplished player (912 career hits) with a good attitude in the clubhouse and a reasonable contract that could keep him under club control through 2020.
And the marketing campaign also wouldn’t hurt in case Theo Epstein’s front office has any ideas about shaking up their middle infield at some point in the future.
“I think he’s getting better,” Maddon said of Castro. “He just works so hard. His work’s been great. He’s hit in the past. He’s hit at a very high level in the past, which tells me he’s going to do it again.
“We’ve talked about (how) I think he’s trying a little bit too hard sometimes. That’s where I think that rollover groundball comes from – trying to do too much. The last two nights, in big moments, line drive up the middle, line drive in the gap. And I’ve always said to him: I’d like to see left-center be his left-field foul line. Meaning to not try to pull the ball so much.
“Overall, defensively, again, his biggest problem’s been a routine play. He’s made a lot of great plays, and he’s messed up on a couple routine things.”
Also remember Castro would never have gotten to this point if he didn’t have uber-confidence, mental toughness and enough control of his emotions to be the same guy every day.
“That’s part of the game,” Castro said. “We get some hot (streaks), we get some cold, but the most important thing is we try to be on one level.”