Cubs

Cubs: Starlin Castro wants to win now with Addison Russell

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Cubs: Starlin Castro wants to win now with Addison Russell

PITTSBURGH — The Cubs don’t have a shortstop controversy.

That doesn’t guarantee Starlin Castro will be the everyday shortstop from here until 2020. Or that Addison Russell is the long-term answer at second base. Theo Epstein’s front office will make more blockbuster trades and sign some big-name free agents, because that’s how this business works.

Right now, all Castro cares about is winning, not fending off the latest challenger to his position or wondering where exactly he fits in the big picture. He’s having too much fun to worry about those distractions.

“I don’t really think about this,” Castro said. “Just be ready to play every day, no matter what. We don’t have any control over that. Just come in here every day and try to play hard and help the team win.”

[MORE CUBS: The future is now for the Cubs and Addison Russell]

Castro stood in front of his locker with a big smile on his face after Tuesday’s 9-8 comeback victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. On a night where Russell was supposed to be the big story, Castro delivered a clutch hit with the bases loaded in the ninth inning.

Castro beat Pirates reliever Mark Melancon, chopping a two-run, game-tying single over the head of third baseman Josh Harrison. Castro went 3-for-5 with four RBIs, lifting his average to .352 and welcoming Russell to The Show.

“It’s good that we all are together now,” Castro said. “We’ve come a long way.”

Castro understands Russell can help him finally play for a team that finishes higher than fifth place. But the Castro trade rumors also started up again as soon as the Cubs acquired Russell from the Oakland A’s in last summer’s Jeff Samardzija deal.

[MORE CUBS: Starlin Castro making a case to stay at shortstop]

Russell came into this season as Baseball America’s No. 3 prospect and made such an impression in spring training that there’s a feeling he’s already the organization’s best defensive shortstop.

“This game answers its own questions,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I just think that it’s great to have multiple people capable of playing those different spots. Right now, you’re seeing Addison get experience at second base, of course, but his bat’s going to get big-league experience, which is really important.

“I’m honestly not worried about it. I really mean what I’m saying. Things will work its way out and the right answers will become more obvious as you move it further along.

“Right now, the opening’s presented right there (at second base). Because of his bat and how (Addison is as a person), he’s able to take advantage of that moment.”

[SHOP CUBS: Get a Starlin Castro jersey right here]

Castro is playing for his fifth manager in six seasons, but this one has the staying power of a five-year, $25 million contract. Castro also gets a little more breathing room now that the Cubs have added some established, invested veterans to their clubhouse.

Castro just keeps hitting at a time when Big Data is stifling offense with defensive shifts, in-depth scouting reports and specialized matchups. Again, this is someone who earned three All-Star selections before his 25th birthday and remains locked up with a reasonable contract that contains a team option for 2020.

“He’s been playing great,” Maddon said. “He’s come on. His defense has been really good. He’s been really good to his left, coming in on slower groundballs, throwing very accurately, getting up off the ground to his feet quickly and throwing the ball well.

“And then beyond that, he’s (producing) his typical offense. I’ve been really impressed with his overall game at shortstop.”

Now that the Cubs are trending upward, Castro is motivated to raise his game to another level.

“That’s the moment that we waited for – for a long time,” Castro said. “(We all want) to be here on one team. Why not? Now is the time.”

Cubs still searching for answers for Tyler Chatwood's puzzling control issues

Cubs still searching for answers for Tyler Chatwood's puzzling control issues

Tyler Chatwood looked to be turning the corner with his control issues, but alas, he and the Cubs aren't so lucky.

After walking only two batters in a solid start in Atlanta last week, Chatwood had taken a big step in the right direction. It was, after all, only the third time he'd walked fewer than 5 batters in an outing this season.

Those control woes reared their ugly heads once again Tuesday night at Wrigley Field in a 10-1 loss to the Indians. Chatwood walked 6 batters and managed to net only 8 outs, getting hammered for 4 runs in the third inning.

"Ugh, it was tough," Maddon said. "The stuff was so good, we just couldn't get a strike."

"It's definitely frustrating," Chatwood said, "because one at-bat, I'll feel really good and the next one, I feel like I'm fighting myself.

"Last time [out], I was able to stay in the rhythm. Tonight, I was kinda battling, rushing rather than staying back, so it's just keeping that feeling and maintaining that."

His season ERA is only 3.74, which looks good until you consider his WHIP is 1.62 and he's walked 40 batters in 45.2 innings with only 41 strikeouts in the process. He now leads baseball in walks per 9 innings.

Chatwood said earlier this month in St. Louis that he's figured out what has led to the startling lack of control and while he didn't elaborate on the mechanical issue, he was working hard at correcting the problem in bullpens.

He's also used the term "fighting myself" at least a dozen times this month alone and it's become a common refrain for his explanation of what's going on. 

"He's got a busy delivery when he throws the baseball," Maddon said. "He's kinda busy what he does with his hands. It's not like he can just change it easily because that's how his arm works, how his body works.

"Sometimes, like you see him the other day, everything's on time and how good it can be and when it's out of sorts a bit, then all of the sudden it becomes shotgun. Ah man, you can see the movement [on his pitches] from the side, how good it is. 

"We gotta harness it somehow. I spoke to him briefly on the bench; I reassured him it's gonna be fine, it's gonna be really good by the end of the year. We gotta figure it out and he knows that. But man, that's good stuff. We just gotta get it in the zone."

Chatwood also admitted part of the problem is mental in that he's trying to force pitches rather than trusting his stuff. He's also gotten into the bad habit of drifting down the mound, though he's not sure when or where he picked up that hitch in his delivery.

Chatwood and Cubs pitching coach Jim Hickey are working on slowing his delivery down to get his arm in the same spot on a more consistent basis.

When the Cubs signed Chatwood over the winter, it was easy to see why.

He just turned 28 in December, his peripherals and a move from hitter-friendly Coors Field foretold a potential leap in performance and his stuff is nasty. Plus, he signed a three-year deal at a relative bargain of $38 million.

Once the Cubs signed Yu Darvish in spring training, you could make the case that Chatwood could be among the best No. 5 starters in baseball.

Nine starts later, the honeymoon period is well over with Chatwood, as he threw only 30 of his 74 pitches for strikes Tuesday night and sent catcher Willson Contreras sailing all around home plate for pitches way out of the zone.

Still, it's clear to see there is some intriguing talent there and the season there is roughly 70 percent of the season remaining before the Cubs make what they hope is another run at the World Series.

"I have a lot of faith," Maddon said. "I know we're gonna reap the rewards, the benefits as he figures this thing out."

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Marlon Byrd discusses his suspensions for PED use and Ozzie Guillen offers a solution to the PED problem

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NBC Sports Chicago

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Marlon Byrd discusses his suspensions for PED use and Ozzie Guillen offers a solution to the PED problem

Ozzie Guillen explains why he thinks Manny Machado is a better fit for the Cubs than the White Sox. Plus, Guillen and Marlon Byrd react to 19-year-old Juan Soto hitting a homer in his first at-bat with the Nationals.

Later in the show the guys debate who had the better rants in front of the media: Guillen or Byrd?

Finally, Byrd opens up about his PED suspensions, relates to the guys caught using PEDs now and Guillen offers up a solution to rid baseball of PEDs entirely.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: