Cubs: Starlin Castro preparing for a bounce-back season

Cubs: Starlin Castro preparing for a bounce-back season
March 25, 2014, 4:45 pm
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MESA, Ariz. – Starlin Castro won’t be easing into the Opening Day lineup. The Cubs say they’re pushing their $60 million shortstop, believing he’s recovered from a hamstring injury and hoping he can return to that All-Star level.

“I’ll be ready right away,” Castro said Tuesday at Cubs Park. “I have plenty of time, taking some pitches here in the minor leagues, hitting in every inning. When the season starts, it’s all me. Ready to go.”

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With less than a week until the season opener, Castro faced live pitching again and passed his agility tests. The plan is for him to play around six innings at shortstop in a minor-league game on Wednesday and take at least six more at-bats.

Manager Rick Renteria said he’s “totally comfortable” with Castro’s health, estimating he’s at “100 percent” after straining his right hamstring on March 2. Castro had committed to an offseason conditioning program and appeared to be in much better shape, confident and refreshed. This is what catcher Welington Castillo had to say about Castro at the beginning of camp, after working out with him at the IMG Academy in Florida:

“He already looks more comfortable, more open. You know Starlin will be Starlin. He’s been good his whole career. He had a tough year last year, but that’s stuff you got to learn from.

“What I like the most is he looks comfortable. He looks confident. That’s what you got to have (for) all your ability to come out.”      

[MORE: Cubs hoping Junior Lake can put it all together]

Castro’s strained left hamstring last spring set the tone for a disappointing season of “mixed messages,” Dale Sveum floating the idea of a demotion to Triple-A Iowa, the manager getting fired and the Cubs overhauling their hitting program. 

Renteria has spent a lot of time this spring talking about “approaches.” What about the National League’s 2011 hits leader who finished last season at .245? Can you drop Castro back into the lineup on March 31 in Pittsburgh and expect him to be a .300 hitter again?

“It’s one of those things where you don’t stop teaching at the major-league level,” Renteria said. “I just happen to be the new guy on the block here right now. Anything that needs to be done or addressed or worked on is just going to be the beginning. We’ll address whatever needs need to be dealt with as the season progresses. And if that has to do with approaches or whatever, we’ll deal with them.”

Uh, OK, but the Cubs hired Renteria for his bilingual skills, teaching background and ability to connect with all the Latin players in the clubhouse now and pushing through the system.

“If there’s anything lost in translation, I’m able to hopefully cover it,” Renteria said. “So if I speak to them in English – which I do – then I reiterate it in Spanish. Maybe it just clarifies the context of the message. I think they understand the English. But I just want to make sure that any messaging that’s trying to get put forth hits the mark.

“It’s really important for them. Because many times I may not understand something from someone – I’m just nodding because I’m trying to accommodate the conversation and I may not know what’s actually going on. In this instance, I think the message is getting across to everybody pretty well.”

[MORE: Who’s in? Who’s out? Cubs look ahead to Opening Day roster]

This isn’t the ideal way to begin what’s supposed to be a bounce-back season, but Castro likes what he’s hearing from Renteria. 

“We got a good relationship,” Castro said. “We talk to each other like people (who go back) a long time. He’s a very good guy. The only thing he tries to (emphasize) is everybody’s going to be together. Everybody can pick your teammates up. You do something, you got guys back there that pick you up.”