Cubs finding pieces to build around Starlin Castro

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Cubs finding pieces to build around Starlin Castro

Two years ago, the Cubs promoted Starlin Castro and framed it as a way to get better defensively, with more range and a stronger arm. Anything on offense was supposed to be a bonus.

The 20-year-old shortstop smashed those expectations on May 7, 2010, launching a three-run bomb in his first at-bat and finishing with six RBI, the most ever for a player making his major-league debut.

Castro hasnt stopped hitting since that night in Cincinnati. In those two calendar years, only Michael Young (402), Ichiro Suzuki (397) and Adrian Gonzalez (391) have more hits than Castro (385).

Come and get it was the message Ryan Theriot delivered to reporters in spring training that year. The Cubs now have their All-Star shortstop to build around for the next decade.

Some of those pieces that could make the Cubs (12-17) relevant again showed up in Mondays 5-1 win over the Atlanta Braves at Wrigley Field.

Bryan LaHair and Ian Stewart hit back-to-back shots into the right-field bleachers off Tommy Hanson in the fourth inning. LaHair now has eight homers and 16 RBI in his last 19 games with an at-bat.

Castro and LaHair are giving the Cubs a 3-4 punch in the middle of the lineup. Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija who limited the Braves (18-12) to one run in seven innings have the stuff to potentially form the top of a playoff rotation.

A new administration saw the raw potential in Samardzija to become a frontline starter. Team president Theo Epstein said the art is in the consistency from one start to the next. Samardzija is now 4-1 with a 3.03 ERA.

Im doing a good job of slowing down, Samardzija said, and really thinking through at-bats and remembering what they did previously. Thats all part of pitching. They get to know you a little more, but you also get to know them a little more, too. You find what works and kind of stick with it. You got to mix it up.

Where Samardzija probably needed fresh voices and new sets of eyes to evaluate him, Castro just keeps hitting, not bothered by the changes in the organization, the media scrutiny, or the price of fame.

Castros hitting .350 and has reached base safely in 66 of his last 69 games. He went 2-for-4 on Monday night and smacked a two-out RBI single up the middle in the seventh inning, giving the Cubs an insurance run.

Castro has already played for three different managers Lou Piniella, Mike Quade and Dale Sveum, an old shortstop who started giving pointers during the first workout in spring training.

Sveum became the Milwaukee Brewers hitting coach and watched their homegrown core develop into a playoff contender. Ready or not, Sveum felt it was best for the future of the franchise to commit to Castro as their No. 3 hitter this year.

Its just a learning curve now (with) situational hitting, Sveum said. (Its) men in scoring position and knowing what the pitchers going to give you. Prepare for that and understand what the pitchers going to do in certain situations.

Thats his biggest learning curve. Hes always going to hit hes just got the mechanics and the hand-eye coordination. Now the important part is (getting) the big hits later in the game when youre facing (better) velocity and stuff.

Of course, three nights after that spectacular debut, Castro made his first appearance at Wrigley Field and got booed after making three errors.

Castro had 56 errors during his first two years in the big leagues, and hes already committed eight this season. Year 3 will be pivotal.

On Opening Day, Epstein was asked a broad question about overall team defense, and his general answer seemed to give some insight into how the organization views Castro as a long-term answer at shortstop.

Theres an emphasis on fundamentals, making the routine play and not just talking about it, Epstein said. (Thats) physically breaking down proper footwork, proper throwing mechanics, proper team fundamental play on bunt plays and the running game. We spent a lot of time working on it.

Defense is one of those areas where you can get better individually and as a team through hard work. Its hard to take someone whos a .230 hitter with no power and no patience and say: Go rake and get on base and hit for power. Thats hard to do.

But you can take someone whos got some defensive issues and work with them through repetition. There can be a lot of improvement. I hope the hard work pays off.

Heres an interesting question for Cubs fans: Where will Castro be two years from now? His smiling face up on billboards? A leader in a clubhouse that includes Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson? The answer will probably say something about where the Cubs are heading.

Report reveals details behind Kevin Wilson's departure from Hoosiers

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USA TODAY

Report reveals details behind Kevin Wilson's departure from Hoosiers

Indiana athletics director Fred Glass was vague during a Thursday press conference announcing the resignation of head football coach Kevin Wilson, citing "philosophical differences" between the two as the primary reason for Wilson's departure from the football program and refusing to get into specifics.

But new reporting from the Indianapolis Star's Zach Osterman revealed Saturday that multiple investigations and allegations of player mistreatment played a role in Glass' actions Thursday that led to Wilson no longer being the Hoosiers' head coach.

Reports throughout the day Thursday indicated this might be the case, suggesting a similar situation to what played out last year at Illinois, where Tim Beckman was fired a week prior to the start of the season after an investigation found support for claims that Beckman forced his players to play through injuries and held too much influence over the training staff.

Osterman's reporting revealed an investigation into the Hoosiers' football program in the spring of 2015 after a student-athlete left the program and his parents complained to the athletics department. The player, Nick Carovillano, sustained a back injury that the Indiana training staff did not take seriously enough, and it took an evaluation by Carovillano's hometown doctor to determine that he shouldn't be participating in football activities while injured.

Carovillano also said that Wilson's treatment of injured players was demeaning, not unlike some of the allegations at Illinois, where Beckman was said to have belittled injured players.

From Osterman's report:

"(Wilson) would come over and yell at us, saying, 'I’m paying $70,000 a year for you to sit on your ass,'" Carovillano said. "That happened about halfway through the season and carried on to the end of it. If you were injured, he just wanted to make you feel like crap. He just wanted to make you feel bad, so you basically would stop being injured."

...

"It just seemed like I wasn’t welcome there, and I was kind of considered a disappointment to them. I injured myself playing for them. I wasn’t starting at all. Everything I was doing was for the betterment of the team. You get injured, and the whole attitude changes toward you."

After Carovillano's parents made their complaints, Indiana launched an investigation into the program and found that there was no "inadequate" medical care. But Glass felt the need to tell Wilson to change his approach anyway, instructing the coach and his assistants to take a different attitude toward injured players. Glass also ordered the implementation of several changes involving the medical attention given to injured players.

Osterman reported that Glass was pleased with the changes Wilson made and considered the issues to be resolved. Wilson received a six-year contract extension in January, less than a year removed from the investigation into Carovillano's departure from the program.

But new issues popped up last month, according to Osterman's interview with Glass. This prompted another investigation, the results of which are not yet public knowledge. But given that this was not the first time such issues arose in Wilson's program, Glass felt it was enough and that a separation was necessary, that separation being Wilson's resignation.

Wilson resigned rather than getting fired, leaving an eyebrow-raising amount of money on the table. He will be paid his base salary of about half a million dollars for one year, but there was approximately $11 million left on his contract.

Tom Allen, who just completed his first season as Indiana's defensive coordinator, was named Wilson's permanent replacement Thursday evening.

Check out all the details in Osterman's report.

Blackhawks sign goalie with no NHL experience to serve as emergency backup

Blackhawks sign goalie with no NHL experience to serve as emergency backup

The Blackhawks were put in a rough spot on Saturday afternoon when goaltender Corey Crawford had to undergo an emergency appendectomy before their matinee matchup with the Philadelphia Flyers.

With Scott Darling as the lone goaltender on the active roster the Blackhawks signed Eric Semborski to an amateur tryout to serve as Darling's backup for Saturday's game against the Flyers.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Semborski, 23, has no NHL experience and last played club hockey at Temple University and for the Empire Junior Hockey Jersey Wildcats.

According to EliteProspects.com, Semborski had a 4.98 GAA and .844 save percentage in 29 games with the Wildcats.

Both the Blackhawks and NHL Twitter accounts had some fun at the expense of Semborski.