2013 has been a rough year for Starlin Castro.
And to know that, all you needed to do was watch Saturday’s game against the Cardinals, one that served as a microcosm of all the woes that have befallen the two-time All Star this season.
With the bases loaded and one out in the top of the fifth, a Matt Carpenter pop fly to shallow left field landed in Castro’s glove for an out. But Castro wasn’t paying attention, he wasn’t focused. Jon Jay was. As Castro dropped his head and turned away from the infield, Jay took advantage and took off for home. By the time Castro noticed, his throw was late, and the Cardinals picked up a run.
Now, this wasn’t the reason the Cubs lost, 4-0, Saturday. One inning later, Travis Wood would surrender a two-run homer -- hardly Castro’s fault. But manager Dale Sveum yanked Castro from the game following his mental lapse in shallow left, throwing one heck of a spotlight on the latest in Castro’s series of fielding miscues.
“I knew the outs and everything,” Castro explained after the game. “I just put my head down, and that’s a mistake. I don’t want to say any excuses. That’s my mistake and that’s why I paid for that, that’s why I was out of the game. It’s tough. I feel really, really bad, especially with Wood pitching good. That happened, made me feel really bad.”
Sveum has had to address questions about Castro’s lack of focus in the field all season. One thing he hasn’t had to do was remove him in the middle of the game. Sveum called it a first in his managerial career. But past that, he’s still searching for answers when it comes to fixing one of the franchise’s building blocks.
“There’s only so many meetings and so many things you can say,” Sveum said. “When you’ve played this much baseball, it gets to the point where you have to do it yourself.
“There’s no question it’s up to both of us, but it’s always up to the individual. He’s played in the big leagues long enough, and we’ve had our discussions. There comes a point in time where you have to cross that bridge and get to the next level. He feels as bad as anybody. He knows what happened, and he feels awful right now.”
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Castro’s 15 errors led National League shortstops entering play Saturday, and while the latest blunder didn’t go down in the scorebook as an E6, it continues the trend. Similarly, in his two at-bats, the shortstop hit into a double play and struck out. Castro’s problems have not just lied in the field this season.
He’s batting .244 on the year, and he’s on pace for roughly 163 hits, which would be a career low after picking up 207 and 183 in each of his first two full seasons in the majors. Through 121 games of this campaign, he’s already matched his career high in strikeouts (100), which was set a year ago when he played in all 162 contests.
Castro said he’s trying to not bring hitting struggles into the field and fielding struggles to the plate, but Sveum said that might just be unavoidable.
“I think it’s the combination (of hitting and fielding),” Sveum said. “The focus at the plate sometimes is just as important as what’s going on sometimes with these misplays in the field or lack of concentration, whatever you call it. A lot of times that snowballs into the hitting as well as the mechanics.”
Castro said he was surprised when Jay took off for home -- and in his defense it was a very unusual and risky decision by the St. Louis base runner -- but the lack of focus and concentration bubbled to the surface once again. It’s something Castro knows he has to work on.
“Yeah, focus and paying attention to the game, don’t put my head down,” Castro said of the things he needs to improve. “Be aggressive on every play, and those mental mistakes don’t happen. You can do whatever, you can strike out, but that mental mistake, that can’t happen and I feel really, really bad.”
Sveum did emphasize that, despite some continued mistakes in the field, Castro has shown he is a good player.
“This guy’s already had 200 hits (in a single season) in the big leagues,” Sveum said. “And he’s getting better as a shortstop. We have some mental lapses like today, but there’s a lot of good things going on defensively that are getting better and these things are happening a lot less. Today’s going to be magnified. It was what it was, and hopefully these things are the kind of things that -- sometimes you hit rock bottom and you don’t happen to make these things anymore because you stay focused for 300 pitches a game.”
Sveum, asked right after Saturday’s game whether or not Castro will play Sunday, said he hadn’t got that far yet. Castro, though, had a clear preference.
“For sure, I want to be there and give 100 percent,” Castro said. “I know that kind of thing won’t happen again.”