Dale Sveum’s Straight Talk Express once tried to figure out where Starlin Castro would fit into a good lineup.
Here’s how the Cubs manager at the time described the All-Star shortstop in August 2012: “The way he hits, not really working counts and working walks, in a real world and a prolific offense, he’d probably be more towards the sixth and seventh spots.”
Fast forward to Thursday night’s 5-3 victory over the Washington Nationals at Wrigley Field, where Castro again delivered as the cleanup hitter behind potential All-Star Anthony Rizzo.
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Castro put the Cubs (33-44) on the board first with a two-run single to left field off Doug Fister in the fourth inning. Castro keeps evolving, hitting .287 with 11 homers, 23 doubles and 47 RBI (or three more than he had last season).
“It wasn’t necessarily that we wanted to put him in that spot,” manager Rick Renteria said. “Based on the guys that we have available, it just seemed to be that the two best guys that we have in those slots were going to be Rizz and Starlin. We just figured they could play off each other a little bit.
“It ended up being just a nice component for the guys that we have. It’s not that I necessarily think that Starlin’s a No. 4 prototypical-type hitter. But based on the guys that we have and how we’ve been using them, they ended up filling those slots for us.”
Castro felt disrespected hitting eighth last year, and appears much more comfortable and confident after a step-back season filled with mixed messages from the coaching staff and the front office. He’s on pace for 20-plus homers, showing the power potential Cubs executives thought was in there.
“I don’t really think about homers,” Castro said. “I just try to hit the ball hard.”
So where should Castro hit? He’s put up an .859 OPS through 55 games batting cleanup. The lineup spot doesn’t really matter as much as getting a $60 million core player back on track.
“It depends on the club,” Renteria said. “All things being equal right now, he’s growing up and maybe I’m wrong. Maybe he is a No. 4 hitter. I think time will tell if he is or isn’t. Right now, he’s having a really good run.”