Cubs expecting Castro and Jackson to snap out of it

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Cubs expecting Castro and Jackson to snap out of it

SAN DIEGO Theo Epstein says the Cubs dont want cookie-cutter hitters. But Starlin Castro and Brett Jackson will be hearing voices as they try to get to the next level. If they dont, then this rebuild could take even longer than expected.

Those Boston Red Sox teams were known for grinding out at-bats and playing games that could easily last four hours on national television. Dale Sveum has very specific ideas about hitting and coached up Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun with the Milwaukee Brewers.

This isnt completely rewiring Castro, who at the age of 21 played in the All-Star Game and led the National League in hits with 207 last season. And its still way too early to rush to judgment on Jackson, who has eight strikeouts in his first 11 at-bats in the big leagues.

But how they finish this season will have to color how the Cubs think about 2013.

As much as Castro smiles in the clubhouse and shrugs off bad games, it definitely bothered him between the lines. Hes been known to throw bats and slam helmets in frustration. He finally snapped an 0-for-21 streak with a single in Wednesdays 2-0 loss to the San Diego Padres.

But the Cubs manager wont be surprised by these droughts until adjustments are made. That could be a project for this winter.

Its just making him understand he doesnt need all this extra movement, Sveum said. (Its taking) all the guesswork out of the timing involved with the leg lift and about three different hand movements he does by the time the guys getting ready to let go of the ball. (Otherwise) the timing factors just not going to be right on a consistent basis.

Castros average has dipped to .273, after never falling below .299 last season. He turned it on as a rookie in 2010 to finish right at .300. Sveum is looking for more.

Even though he was hitting .300 at the beginning of the year, it was a lot of off-the-end-of-the-bat, seeing-eye base hits, Sveum said. What Im talking about is a guy thats so gifted he should be able to hit the ball harder on a consistent basis. Were all trying to get (to) the higher level. (Its) not to be always satisfied with chasing hits.

The Cubs fired hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo in June and promoted James Rowson, a minor-league coordinator they felt would be a fresh voice to deliver their message.

This kind of thing never happened for me, and I dont feel too good about that, Castro said. Im working with (Rowson) every day, doing my routine every day. Its nothing different. Ive seen the video last year and this year its nothing different. It just happens in the game.

Part of the logic in promoting Jackson last weekend was that he would be able to work directly with Sveum and Rowson after striking out 158 times in 407 at-bats at Triple-A Iowa.

Jackson sat on Wednesday against Padres lefty Clayton Richard, but is in line to face four right-handers in the upcoming four-game series against the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field. The night before, Sveum saw Jackson go through four different hand positions and three different setups and finish 0-for-3 with three strikeouts and a walk.

This was part of the reason why we called him up, to see firsthand and get a good grip on whats going on, Sveum said. Its not like hes swinging through anything (when) the balls in the strike zone. Right now, hes just swinging out of the strike zone.

The Cubs arent worried about Jacksons state of mind or how he will handle failure in the spotlight.

Hes a confident kid that knows theres just something a little wrong (and it) needs to change to move forward, Sveum said. This is big-league pitching. Theyre not going to give in. (But hes) willing to make adjustments to succeed here.

This is what Jackson wanted from the moment he signed out of Cal-Berkeley as a first-round pick in 2009. Hes prepared to ride out all the ups and downs.

Thats how well you can adapt, how professional you can be, Jackson said. Thats something Im going to put together.

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Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Lightning tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Lightning tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Grab the first goal.

The Blackhawks have scored the game's first goal in seven of the last eight games, and of those seven, they've won six of them. Meanwhile, the Lightning have scored the first goal only 17 times in 48 games this season, and are 12-5-1 in those games. They're 9-17-4 when they allow the first goal, so getting out to a lead first will be important against a struggling Lightning team looking for signs of life.

2. Will the floodgates open for Jonathan Toews?

After a four-point game in a 4-2 win over Vancouver, the Blackhawks captain matched his point total over his previous nine games. He's up to 26 points on the season, which is now fifth among Chicago forwards. When Toews has offensive droughts, they usually last longer than they should. But when he gets hot, he gets extremely hot. Perhaps we'll see the floodgates open offensively.

3. A chance for the team lead in scoring.

With an empty-net goal on Sunday, Marian Hossa tied Artem Anisimov for the team-lead with 18 goals. Artemi Panarin is right behind with 17, and Patrick Kane isn't far either at 15. The Blackhawks had four 20-goal scorers last season, and haven't had more than that since the 2013-14 season. They're definitely on pace to hit four, but could they surprass that? Richard Panik, who scored another goal Sunday as well, is fifth with 11 goals while Ryan Hartman has 10. Toews is at eight, but a flurry after a drought could make things interesting.

4. The triplets reunited?

In an effort to jumpstart a struggling offense, Lightning coach Jon Cooper reunited the triplets line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat that was so successful during their 2015 playoff run in their latest game, a 5-3 loss to Arizona. It's unclear whether they will begin tonight's game on the same line, but if not, it's worth watching throughout the game whether they do. The Blackhawks have been coming at opponents in waves lately, so Cooper could look to separate the three to distribute the scoring.

5. Take advantage on special teams.

The Lightning have racked up the fifth-most penalty minutes in the league, and own a bottom-10 penalty kill unit at 80.1 percent. The Blackhawks are the second-least penalized team, and have converted on 17.9 percent of their power plays, which sits at 16th. But they haven't scored one on the man advantage in five straight games, going 0-for-9 during that span. Here's a chance to change that.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

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