Castro, Colvin grow into elite members of rookie class

Castro, Colvin grow into elite members of rookie class

Friday, Aug. 27, 2010
11:39 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

CINCINNATI Almost anything seemed possible that Friday night at Great American Ball Park. Starlin Castro lived up to all the hype, and Cubs fans could envision their shortstop for the next 10-to-15 years.

The 20-year-old crushed a home run in his first major-league at-bat and finished with a record-setting six RBI in his debut. The Cubs sold Castros promotion as a way to improve their overall team defense, and move Ryan Theriot to second base, where he profiled better offensively.

They entered Friday last in the National League in fielding percentage. And only one player in the majors Ian Desmond (28) had committed more errors than Castro (20), and the Washington Nationals shortstop has done that in 24 more games.

Theriot is now playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers, part of a series of moves that would have seemed unlikely if not unthinkable on May 7 in Cincinnati.

The front office thought a young player could energize the clubhouse, but didnt want to place too much on Castros shoulders, stressing that any offensive production would be a bonus.

Castro returned to the scene of his dazzling debut on Friday only five plate appearances away from qualifying for the leader board. His .315 average would otherwise rank fifth in the National League.

Since his call-up from Double-A Tennessee, he has played in 98 of the teams 99 games, and made the proper adjustments at the plate, heading into Friday hitting .371 since July 10.

We thought he (might) hit the wall, Geovany Soto said. He's the real deal. He makes the difficult play look easy. He's young, but he knows this game. He's going to make a few mistakes here and there, (but) at his age I was in A-ball.

The Cubs catcher was the 2008 N.L. Rookie of the Year, an award that will have no shortage of candidates by the end of this season. Castro will have to be in the conversation.

Atlanta Braves outfielder Jason Heyward generated much of the preseason buzz, and hes hitting .269 with 14 home runs and 57 RBI for a first-place team. Within that division, first basemen Gaby Sanchez (.2891569) and Ike Davis (.2481557) are producing for the Florida Marlins and New York Mets.

Left-hander Jamie Garcia (11-6, 2.42) is helping to keep the St. Louis Cardinals in the race. San Francisco Giants catcherfirst baseman Buster Posey (.3321049) will only play a little more than half a season, but hes doing it for a playoff contender and sometimes at the games most physically demanding position.

And then there is Tyler Colvin, who leads all rookies with 19 home runs, though his on-base percentage has dipped to .316. Thats not the type of production youre looking for in a first baseman. Manager Mike Quade isnt rushing to use Colvin at that position during a game, much less make him Derrek Lees replacement.

Hes just going to mess around there. Theres no imminent thing going on, Quade said. When Derrek left, that throws everything into a little different context for awhile.

I believe it would not affect (Colvins outfield play) at all. So why not increase his value and our ability to use him in different possibilities? But we needed to defuse the fact that this going to happen now (or) going to be every (day).

Fridays news that Stephen Strasburg is expected to undergo Tommy John surgery is a reminder how fragile young players especially pitchers can be.

After facing the Washington rookie in June, Paul Konerko, one of the most thoughtful players in baseball, was compelled to say: Hes played less than a year of pro baseball and hes as dominant, as good as anyone out there. Now Strasburg is looking at 12-to-18 months of rehabilitation, hoping he will again be able to rediscover his 100 mph stuff.

For Castro, the challenge wont be as dramatic. It will be in the details, like tagging runners, and making the routine plays, over and over again. It could take years.

You watch a veteran shortstop come in with another club who doesnt have that kind of talent, Quade said. (He) doesnt have that kind of upside anymore (like Castro, but hes) able to slow the thing down when things get sped up.

(If) its bases loaded one out (and) the people are screaming, you have to be able to (do that). It doesnt mean you nonchalant something, but in your mind youre slowing things down, which allows you to make more plays and be more consistent.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Preview: Cubs-Dodgers Sunday on CSN

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Preview: Cubs-Dodgers Sunday on CSN

The Cubs take on the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 2:30 p.m. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

CSN will also carry the live audio call of Los Angeles Dodgers broadcasting legend Vin Scully during Sunday's game as the SportsNet LA audio feed will be featured during the third inning.

Sunday’s starting pitching matchup: Jon Lester vs. Kenta Maeda

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

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— Channel finder: Make sure you know where to watch.

— Latest on the Cubs: All of the most recent news and notes.

— See what fans are talking about before, during and after the game with Cubs Pulse.

Cubs: Jason Hammel still fuming after Joe Maddon’s quick hook at Dodger Stadium

Cubs: Jason Hammel still fuming after Joe Maddon’s quick hook at Dodger Stadium

LOS ANGELES – Even from the upper levels of Dodger Stadium, inside the Vin Scully Press Box, you didn’t need binoculars or a lip reader to tell that Jason Hammel wanted nothing to do with Joe Maddon. 

Not this early on Saturday afternoon, not when the Cubs pitcher came into a possible playoff preview with a 13-6 record and a 3.07 ERA. An animated Hammel gestured toward home plate and walked off the mound in the middle of the third inning, continuing a sometimes awkward/usually productive relationship with the star manager that dates back to their time together as Tampa Bay Rays.    

The media waited several extra minutes outside the visiting clubhouse after a 3-2 loss to the Dodgers while Hammel met with Maddon in his office. Maddon’s postgame press conference then lasted almost eight minutes, giving Hammel time to shower and change into his street clothes. Hammel was still fuming by the time reporters wandered over to his locker.

“That’s between me and Joe,” Hammel said. 

Hammel – who normally enjoys the back-and-forth exchanges and gives insightful answers, even to uncomfortable questions – declined to get specific about the meeting, the decision-making process or how to work with Maddon.  

“That’s a conversation for me and him,” Hammel said. “There’s no reason for that to be in the papers. It’s a professional way of working through it. We’ll leave it there.” 

No, Hammel doesn’t get much latitude, even during his 11th year in the big leagues and a strong individual season that had so far answered questions about a second-half fade. But Maddon didn’t like what he saw against a stacked left-handed Los Angeles lineup.

Maddon walked out from the dugout with two runners on and one out in the third inning. Adrian Gonzalez loomed next, trying to extend a 3-1 lead with one big swing. Maddon summoned Rob Zastryzny from the bullpen and watched the rookie lefty get two groundball outs.  

“I didn’t even pitch today in my mind,” Hammel said. “I barely threw 40 pitches, so this is a side day for me.”

Zastryzny looked extremely impressive, retiring 11 of the 12 batters he faced, eight days after getting called up from Triple-A Iowa and making his big-league debut, showing that he could become an X-factor for October.

“He was not happy with me taking him out that early,” Maddon said of his conversations with Hammel. “I can understand why, because it’s happened in the past. But I just didn’t see the game straightening out.

“Watching them one time through, it looked like they were on him a little bit. And I thought that was a great lineup for ‘Rob Z.’ One of the things with bullpen arms – I want to put them in a meaningful spot. 

“I didn’t see it happening for ‘Hammer’ today, and that’s cool, because he didn’t throw that many pitches. He’s going to be very well-rested for his next start. But it also illustrates ‘Rob Z’ and what he can do for us in the future.” 

No, Hammel didn’t look all that sharp, giving up five hits to the 12 batters he faced, including a first-inning homer to Corey Seager and three consecutive hits to begin the third. But Hammel is also a respected veteran teammate who helped the Cubs transform into a playoff team last year and build baseball’s top-performing rotation this season. 

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Who cares? The Cubs are still 36 games over .500 and began the day with huge leads over the St. Louis Cardinals (14) and Pittsburgh Pirates (16.5) in a watered-down division. 

Well, Hammel is a guy who feeds off confidence and positive reinforcement. The Cubs might need him in October, especially if John Lackey (shoulder) experiences a setback before coming off the disabled list or another starter gets hurt down the stretch.  

“It is what it is,” Hammel said. “The guys fought hard. ‘Z’ did a hell of a job coming out of the ‘pen.”

Then again, the Cubs already think Mike Montgomery could develop into a good big-league starter – the lefty swingman got a longer leash given this particular Los Angeles matchup on Friday night – and thought enough of Zastryzny to make him a second-round pick out of the University of Missouri in 2013.

But for now, Maddon allowed Hammel to take advantage of his open-door policy and vent.

“I want them to be able to do that,” Maddon said. “I have a reason why I did it. I’m not going to hide about anything. It’s not like I just picked that out of the hat and chose to do it today. 

“You just got to shoot them straight back. And hopefully they can deal with it. There’s a great line: ‘Honesty without compassion equals cruelty.’ So at some point, you got to understand your audience, too.”

Joe Maddon defends bunt decision after Cubs can’t knock out Dodgers phenom Julio Urias

Joe Maddon defends bunt decision after Cubs can’t knock out Dodgers phenom Julio Urias

LOS ANGELES – The Cubs had Julio Urias and the Los Angeles Dodgers on the ropes, but couldn’t knock out the young lefty from Mexico who’s drawn comparisons to franchise icon Fernando Valenzuela and could be the next star to burst from this pitching-rich pipeline.  

The Cubs created their “you go, we go” sense of momentum on Saturday afternoon at Dodger Stadium with Dexter Fowler drawing a leadoff walk and MVP candidates Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo hitting back-to-back singles into right field to generate the game’s first run.

Urias had already thrown 17 pitches in the first inning when manager Joe Maddon instructed cleanup hitter Ben Zobrist to try to bunt for a hit. It became an easy out for Urias, who then struck out Addison Russell and Jorge Soler looking and began to find his rhythm during a 3-2 victory in front of 49,522 at Chavez Ravine. 

“Second and third was kind of a nice spot to be,” Maddon said. “(Zobrist) could have hit into a double play. He’s the one guy who’s heavy groundball against that particular pitcher. 

“I actually like the bunt for the hit right there, (because) we had (already) scored (and) Addison’s been a pretty good RBI dude. I thought it was a nice move right there (to) at least get one (run) out of that. 

“You got him and Soler coming up versus a left-hander who’s a little bit shaky right there – I kind of liked it.”

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The Cubs had roughed up Urias during his second career big-league start on June 2 – or two-plus months before his 20th birthday – by hitting three homers and scoring six runs off him in five innings at Wrigley Field.   

But Urias – who pitched at four different minor-league levels last season – clearly has an accelerated learning curve. He managed to last six innings this time and didn’t allow another run after that early flurry, finishing with eight strikeouts against two walks.  

Urias has gone 4-0 with a 2.03 ERA in his last six games (four starts), helping bail out a $250 million team and a fragile rotation that’s used 14 different starting pitchers. If the Dodgers (72-57) can get Clayton Kershaw back to full strength, keep Rich Hill healthy and continue to bring along Urias, then the Cubs might have some matchup nightmares in October. 

“(Urias is) all of what they think he is,” Maddon said. “The kid was outstanding. He knows how to elevate against the guy you’re supposed to elevate against. He knows how to throw the ball down against the guy you’re supposed to throw the ball down to. He’s got a nice move to first base. He handled himself well at the plate. And he’s 20 years old. That’s pretty good.”