MIAMI — Starlin Castro noticed the group of reporters lurking in the middle of the room and politely asked: “You guys need me?”
Castro finished chatting with Cubs hitting consultant Manny Ramirez and stood in front of his locker on Tuesday afternoon, patiently answering questions.
However you feel about the All-Star shortstop, you have to admit he faces the music and oozes confidence. Those are essential survival skills in this game and in this market.
Castro went out and notched his 900th career hit during a 5-2 loss to the Miami Marlins, becoming the youngest player in franchise history to reach that mark at 25 years, two months and nine days old.
[MORE CUBS: Joe Maddon trying to get through to Starlin Castro]
Castro hadn’t seen the “SportsCenter” segment that timed his home-run trot on Monday night at Marlins Park — 30 seconds — but somebody did tell him about the ESPN gimmick.
“It’s kind of emotional, but I don’t really do it to offend anybody,” Castro said. “It’s nothing in particular (or trying) to offend the pitcher. It had been a long time since I hit a homer. May is a tough month, we’re starting June, and we hit a homer right away. It made me more excited.”
Castro insisted he wasn’t trying to send a message by taking his time around the bases, admiring that shot into the left-field seats and enjoying his first home run in more than three weeks. But that’s also not a great look in the eighth inning when you’ve already committed an error on a routine groundball in the seventh.
“I noticed it wasn’t fast, but it didn’t bother me,” manager Joe Maddon said. “It just speaks to the superficial component within our game. It’s also whoever you want to target. If it’s an easy target, you time him. If it’s not, you don’t time him.
“I have no problem with it. If it was done against us, I wouldn’t even (blink). It’s a nonissue. I’m rather amused at it.”
Castro showed he’s serious about defense on Tuesday night, moving to his left and making a 360-degree spin to throw out Dee Gordon, Miami’s speedy leadoff guy, at first base in the seventh inning. The next inning, Castro made a diving stop to his left and threw from his knees, stealing a hit from Marcell Ozuna.
“Just trying to stay aggressive,” Castro said. “If you’re going to make an error doing it aggressive, it doesn’t matter. The errors that piss me off are the errors where I stay back.”
Castro has 12 errors through 50 games after committing only 15 in 133 games last year. An ankle injury cut short an All-Star season that had shown improved defensive focus and elite offensive potential at a marquee position (14 homers, 65 RBIs, .777 OPS).
“Tremendous defense,” Maddon said. “I know it’s in there. I know he can do it. Stay with him. For me, overall, he has played well. He’s made some mistakes on routine stuff, which I really know that we can get rid of that.”
[SHOP CUBS: Get a Starlin Castro jersey right here]
Castro looked energized playing on a team with big expectations, hitting .325 in April before cooling off in May (.539 OPS) and starting to drift off defensively.
Castro dismissed the idea that the promotion of shortstop-turned-second baseman Addison Russell — and the rampant trade speculation — might have weighed on his mind.
“I don’t really watch the news,” Castro said. “Sometimes when I get on Instagram, people text me or tell me something, but that’s (all) I know.”
There’s no denying Castro is mentally tough after rocketing through the farm system, skipping the Triple-A level, living inside the Wrigleyville fishbowl and surviving five fifth-place finishes.
“Just try to come in here every day with the same attitude,” Castro said. “I know my talents. I try to be here every day to give 100 percent. Sometimes this game is tough. Sometimes you’re good. Sometimes you’re OK. It’s kind of up and down. You just try to keep your head up and keep playing hard.”
Maddon — Castro’s fifth manager in six seasons — continues to have his back. And that’s what matters now.
“I love his work,” Maddon said. “My conversations with him are fabulous. I trust the guy. He’s going to keep getting better.”