MESA, Ariz. – It usually gets lost in all the outside noise, but Starlin Castro has been an ironman for the Cubs, playing in 269 consecutive games from the end of the 2011 season through the middle of the 2013 season. His 1,418 innings led all National League shortstops last year.
Castro cares about his game and wants to be in the lineup every day. The Cubs still expect him to be ready for Opening Day, downplaying the right hamstring strain that will sideline him for the next week to 10 days.
“We’re just being cautious with him,” manager Rick Renteria said Monday. “It shouldn’t set him back at all for the regular season.”
The fans want to see Javier Baez, but Renteria identified utility guy Emilio Bonifacio and Gold Glove second baseman Darwin Barney as replacements. Castro felt something sliding headfirst into second base during Sunday’s 5-3 loss to the Kansas City Royals. Baez took over in the second inning and went 2-for-3 with a double and a run scored, again showing why he’s Baseball America’s No. 5 overall prospect.
“We’ll still have Bonifacio, and Darwin will start playing shortstop,” Renteria said. “Baez may get an extra game or some more innings. But for the most part, it’s Bonnie and Darwin and some of the other guys. We still have (Arismendy) Alcantara. We have guys to mix in.”
Coming off a down season, Cubs people liked Castro’s body language and the way he attacked an offseason training program designed to strengthen his lower half and increase his flexibility.
Castro strained his left hamstring last year and missed about two weeks of game action in the Cactus League. He had trouble walking with that injury, but indicated he’s moving much better this time.
“He’s walking around pretty good right now,” Renteria said.
Renteria is saying it will be all systems go for Castro on March 31 against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. Since last September, Cubs executives have repeatedly said Baez will be Triple-A Iowa’s Opening Day shortstop, and it’s almost impossible to see the front office changing that position now.
Barney had been the Iowa shortstop when Castro leapfrogged him in May 2010, going from Double-A Tennessee to the big leagues. Hall of Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg, the Iowa manager, helped Barney learn a new position. That versatility could be useful when teams call the Cubs looking for middle-infield help.
“Shortstop’s my natural position,” Barney said. “I feel very comfortable over there. The past three years at second base, I’ve still taken balls at short almost every day as part of my workout to stretch my arm out. I don’t look at it as a transition. I just look at it as moving back over to short, whenever I have to.”