ST. LOUIS – If you can’t handle it, then go play somewhere else.
Jeff Samardzija sent that message, knowing there’s always something to talk about with your Chicago Cubs, whether it’s second-guessing the manager, another Carlos Marmol meltdown, Ian Stewart’s Twitter account, the Wrigley Field renovation dance or empty threats to move to the suburbs.
Starlin Castro is in the middle of it now, as the two-time All-Star shortstop dealing with failure for essentially the first time in his pro career.
Castro’s not “The Lone Ranger” in all this, as manager Dale Sveum said after Thursday night’s 6-1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. But this comes with being one of the faces of the franchise, someone the marketing department once put on billboards opposite Derek Jeter.
Castro had his shot against Lance Lynn and the Cardinals (47-26) with the bases loaded in the fifth inning and the Cubs (29-42) down by one run. After popping out to catcher Yadier Molina in foul territory, Castro didn’t flash the temper he’s shown over the years.
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Castro didn’t slam his bat or chuck his helmet in frustration. He simply took off his batting gloves, handed everything over to a batboy and walked back out to shortstop.
“It’s tough, man, but I keep my mind positive,” Castro said. “I can take 700 at-bats (and) there’s almost four months left. Just stay aggressive and keep playing hard. Let’s see what happens. I know I’m working hard every day. I know I can get out of this.”
Castro finished 0-for-4 with two strikeouts, watching his batting average fall to .232. This at the end of a road trip in which he went 4-for-30 and forced the manager to think about giving him a day off to watch from the bench.
“By numbers alone, he’s regressed, there’s no question about it,” Sveum said. “You’re getting way, way down as far as all the other shortstops in baseball right now (offensively). He’s under a .600 OPS. That would go without saying that he’s regressed.”
Castro’s .588 OPS ranks 19th out of the 20 qualified shortstops in the majors, which is not what the organization projected when he signed a seven-year, $60 million contract to become a foundation piece for Theo Epstein’s rebuilding project.
“I just think he’s in a slump and he’s going to turn it around pretty soon,” Epstein said. “I feel bad for him that he’s going through this. Obviously, we’d love better production and we will get better production out of him going forward. But in a way, it shouldn’t be unexpected because baseball is a game of failure and then adjustments.
“You like your players to fail in the minor leagues, so they see what it’s like and they can come to terms with that and make their adjustments. They come back and it helps them when they go through it at the big-league level.”
Castro, of course, skipped the Triple-A level and only played parts of two seasons at Double-A Tennessee before getting fast-tracked to the big leagues in May 2010.
“Starlin was so talented that he has never really failed before,” Epstein said. “It’s tough when you go through that for the first time at the big-league level, already being a player who’s relied upon by his teammates and being a player who’s on a multi-year contract.
“It’s tougher for him, but I think in the long run it’s really good for him. He’s going to find his way out of it. He’s probably going to be a better player for it. And the next time he falls into this type of slump, I think he’ll have the wherewithal to pull himself out of it quicker.”
Castro’s been hearing several different voices and Sveum has strong opinions on what he wants to see at the plate.
“He knows the formula,” Sveum said. “The rest is up to him. He knows the issues and the mechanical things that are different than when he first got to the big leagues. It’s up to him to get all that ironed out.”
It’s easy to forget that Castro is still only 23 years old, with 598 career hits already on his big-league resume. And it’s not just Castro. It’s going to be this way for every player supposed to be the next big thing at Clark and Addison in this multi-year rebuild.
“Any big market, you’re going to have a lot more on the table than an Oakland or a Milwaukee,” Sveum said. “There’s just much more media. There’s more of a magnified (thing). You’re the Chicago Cubs.
“It’s just like when I was in Boston. That was a heck of a lot different than the six years I was in Milwaukee. That’s just the way it is. Like (Samardzija) said: If you can’t handle it, then you got to move on to a smaller market.”