Starlin Castro 'embarrassed' after mental mistake in Cubs loss


Starlin Castro 'embarrassed' after mental mistake in Cubs loss

MINNEAPOLIS - There was no place for Starlin Castro defenders on Twitter Friday night.

The enigmatic shortstop found himself under fire on social media again as he made another mental mistake in the field.

In the first inning of Friday's game against the Twins, Castro booted a routine double-play grounder with the bases loaded and then hung his head while retrieving the ball, allowing Minnesota's Eddie Rosario to motor home from second base on a ball that never left the infield dirt.

Two runs scored on the play and set the tone for the entire evening in an eventual 7-2 Cubs loss.

"That's bad. That's really bad," Castro said. "That's the kind of mistake that can't happen. It's really embarrassing. 

"I apologized to all my teammates. That's not supposed to happen. It's tough. I don't have any excuse. That kind of thing can't happen again."

[MORE: Cubs 'just didn't have it' in sloppy loss to Twins]

Castro has been plagued by mental mistakes and attention lapses in the field over his career, getting ripped on national TV and building a perception in some corners of the baseball world as a guy who may always be prone to miscues like this.

The error was Castro's 14th of the season, even though the mental mistake doesn't count against him on the stat sheet. 

Castro is a stand-up guy, who always faces up to his mistakes. He stood in front of his locker, ready to meet the media immediately after Friday's game, answering every question and looking each reporter in the eye, never deflecting blame or trying to hide from his gaffe.

"It makes me feel really bad because that's not me," Castro said. "I'm better than that. That should never happen. Not even one time. Never.

"Those kinds of things piss me off. ... I don't have any excuse for that. That kind of thing can't happen."

Cubs manager Joe Maddon insists he doesn't care about the physical mistakes in a game where everybody messes up eventually. But Maddon has been preaching a sharp mental focus since coming to the organization and he believes there's still hope for Castro removing those sort of mental lapses from his game, even at age 25 and in his sixth big-league season.

"Yep, we can [fix it]," Maddon said. "I'm a big believer in that. He is young. He has experience, but he's young. 

"We just have to keep working on that. That's the way you've gotta coach as a manager. If these guys were perfect, they wouldn't need us. I really like the kid a lot. I know nobody feels worse than he does right now."

Castro said he talked to starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks after the first inning, apologizing and owning up to his mistake.

But Castro wasn't the only guy to make a mistake behind Hendricks in the game. Miguel Montero let a run come home with a wild throw to second base and Kris Bryant threw wide of the first-base bag in the first inning, sinking another shot at a double play.

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Still, Hendricks refused to place blame on his teammates after the game.

"Everybody makes mistakes," Hendricks said. "I'm up there making mistakes all the time. There's no way I'm going to criticize guys ever.

"But they had more plays. Starlin made a great play in the hole later in the game. I just told them to keep their heads up and they'll get some more."

Hendricks did work around the mistake, closing the door for the Twins in that first inning and limiting Minnesota to just those two runs. 

Castro tried to make up for the early gaffe, drilling a pair of fly balls to the wall, including a shot to center field in the top of the second with a runner on base.

At the end of the day, the Cubs still presented a unified front and nobody seemed to let their frustrations cloud the message of a 35-30 team hoping to be playing in the postseason this year.

"You have to be able to communicate. That's part of being a team and being good teammates for each other," Hendricks said. "We have to pick each other up.

"If a mistake like that happens, then maybe I can make big pitches, get the next guy out and we can get out of the inning. It's just about constantly picking guys up."

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Ricky Gutiérrez played in the Majors from 1993-2004. He played shortstop for the Cubs from 2000-01 and later signed with them again in June 2004. 

However, Gutiérrez never got back to the Majors with the Cubs, who sent him to the Red Sox the following month. His final Major League game was with the Red Sox on Oct. 3, 2004, the final game of the 2004 regular season; he didn’t play in the 2004 postseason. Gutiérrez was subsequently signed and released by a few other teams, including the White Sox in 2005.

Gutiérrez holds the distinction of being the first Cubs player to hit a regular season grand slam against the White Sox (July 12, 2001). In his two seasons with the Cubs, he tied for the Major League lead in sacrifice bunts both years (16 in 2000, 17 in 2001) which was odd since he had a grand total of 18 sacrifice bunts in his 847 career games NOT in a Cubs uniform. He also had uncharacteristic power with the Cubs:  21 home runs for Chicago in 272 games, 17 home runs with everyone else (847 games).

What Cubs fans probably remember most is what Gutiérrez did against them. On May 6, 1998 he had the lone hit (many dispute it should have been ruled an error) for the Astros off Kerry Wood in Wood’s 20-strikeout masterpiece at Wrigley Field (Gutiérrez was responsible for two of the strikeouts). 

Later that season, on June 26, the number 20 and Gutiérrez were again connected when he had a 20-pitch battle against Bartolo Colón, which ended in a strikeout. It remained the last plate appearance in the Majors of at least 20 pitches until Brandon Belt flew out on the 21st pitch of an at-bat against the Angels' Jaime Barria on April 22, 2018.

Gutiérrez’s nephew, James Jones, played 14 seasons in the NBA for the Pacers, Suns, Trail Blazers, Heat and Cavaliers.

2019 encore for Jesse Chavez?


2019 encore for Jesse Chavez?

On July 15, Brandon Morrow recorded his 22nd save of the season with a scoreless inning in San Diego. It wound up being the last time he pitched in a game for the Cubs in 2018. 

Four days later, during the All-Star break, the Cubs made a move to bolster their bullpen, acquiring Jesse Chavez from the Rangers in exchange for minor league hurler Tyler Thomas. It wasn’t even the biggest trade they’d make with the Rangers that month – a little over a week later they dealt for Cole Hamels. 

Despite pitching nearly half the innings, Chavez was almost as valuable as Hamels.

2018 with Cubs IP fWAR
Jesse Chavez 39.0 1.1
Cole Hamels 76.1 1.5

Chavez made his Cubs debut on July 21; from July 21 through the end of the season, 187 pitchers tossed at least 30 innings. 185 of them had a higher ERA than Chavez, while 184 of them allowed more baserunners per 9 innings.

Best ERA, July 21-end of season

(minimum 30 innings) IP ERA
Blake Treinen 32.1 0.56
Jesse Chavez 39.0 1.15
Blake Snell 61.2 1.17
Trevor Bauer 35.0 1.29
Trevor Williams 71.2 1.38
Robert Stock 36.0 1.50

Fewest baserunners per 9 innings, July 32-end of season

(minimum 30 innings) IP BR/9 IP
Blake Treinen 32.1 5.85
Blake Snell 61.2 7.15
Jesse Chavez 39.0 7.15
Jacob deGrom 93.2 7.49
Scott Oberg 30.2 7.63
Josh Hader 33.1 7.83

But how did Chavez transform into one of Joe Maddon’s best bullpen arms down the stretch?  According to Chavez, his own transformation started on Mother’s Day.

Chavez entered a game in Houston with a 5.48 ERA in a dozen appearances, but pitched three innings with no hits, no walks and four strikeouts. From that point through the end of the season, he posted a 1.70 ERA and 0.892 WHIP. 

Chavez points to a change in arm slot which resulted in better consistency and a slight jump in velocity. A glance at his release point charts show that consistency, and he added roughly one mile an hour to his fastball.

"It's kept me more consistent in the zone," Chavez said. "Things have been sharper, velocity has been a lot sharper. I was huffing and puffing trying to get a 92 (mph fastball) out there and it wasn't coming.

"Next thing you know, I dropped it and it's right there, and I'm like, 'something's wrong here.' But I just took it and ran with it."

Jesse Chavez 2018 four-seam fastball velocity

  Average Max
Prior to May 13 92.6 mph 94.6 mph
May 13 on 93.6 mph 95.7 mph

Can Chavez be valuable in 2019?  The 35-year old reliever posted the best ERA (2.55), WHIP (1.059) and walk rate (4.5% - nearly two percent better than his previous best) in 2018, and he continued to get better as the season went on. 

He’s a former starter who can pitch multiple innings if needed, and that’s a valuable thing - especially for a manager like Joe Maddon, who uses his pitchers in a variety of ways. It’s unlikely he’ll have a second consecutive career year.

But he’ll likely be well worth the price tag; he only made $1 million in 2018, and even with a slight raise he should be very affordable. There’s definitely room in Maddon’s bullpen for a pitcher like Chavez.