For any backup player, it’s hard to stay in a groove when playing time is irregular. But for Cubs catcher Dioner Navarro, any playing time is good.
Navarro’s streak of five straight starts was snapped Saturday, but what still stands out is his production this season. The backup catcher has posted a slash line of .291/.361/.536 with eight home runs and 18 RBI in just 42 games played.
The Cubs’ recent swing through American League ballparks was particularly beneficial for Navarro, who was able to pick up starts and at-bats by segueing between catcher and designated hitter.
“We actually were talking about that yesterday, it worked out for me,” Navarro said. “I DH’d three out of the six games. I was happy. It doesn’t get any better than that. You’re just getting paid to go hit then go sit down on the bench and watch a big league game. Like I said, I’m not one of those picky guys. I just like to play. I’m a happy guy, I like to play, I like to keep everybody loose. That’s how I see myself.”
[WATCH: Navarro on Samardzija's tough start]
It seemed that regular playing time was doing Navarro good. He started each of the Cubs’ last five games before Saturday and went 7-for-17 with two doubles and two walks. Heading into Saturday, he’d started seven of the last eight of the Cubs and posted an OPS of 1.164 with a pair of homers and four RBI.
“For me, yeah. I still want to play,” Navarro said. “That’s my thing: I just want to play. I just want to take advantage of every opportunity that I get and contribute to the team and help the team win games, which is the ultimate goal.”
Of course, it’s the rarity of regular time that has seen Navarro sit and wait for those opportunities. Welington Castillo is, of course, the Cubs everyday catcher, despite a much slower season with the bat than his backup. Castillo entered play Saturday batting .268, but he’s been on a bit of a streak, too, as he’s raised his batting average .022 points since June 12.
“Like I’ve said since spring training, we’re here to help out each other, and we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do to help the team win,” Navarro said. “I guess we’re just happy, we love it, and we’re just doing our job. We’re putting (Cubs manager) Dale (Sveum) in quite the predicament, but it’s got to be a good luxury.”
The dual production from the Cubs’ catchers is quite the luxury for the team, according to Sveum, but it also makes the manager’s job more difficult.
“It’s always a luxury to get any production. The production we’re getting out of our catchers is pretty good,” Sveum said. “Welington has struggled with men in scoring position, but other than that he’s swung the bat OK. It’s a nice tandem to have. It’s not easy to have your backup catcher swinging the bat better than anybody on your team at this point right now.”
The education of Starlin Castro continues
After another day that saw Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro make some glaring mistakes in the field and on the base paths, manager Dale Sveum was hit with the same questions about fixing the promising Castro.
“You do your best through our coaching and managing and all that, but, like I said a few weeks ago, when you get to this level and you play at this level in your fourth year, a lot of it at that point is just left up to the player,” Sveum said.
Every time Castro makes an error -- his 15 lead big league shortstops -- has a bad at-bat or struggles as a base runner -- he was picked off second base in Friday’s game -- it’s magnified. The reason for that focus, other than Castro’s seeming role as a face of the franchise, is the continuation of these problems.
“You’ve seen the same thing,” Sveum said of Friday’s list of woes. “You see, obviously, a couple really poor at-bats and some bad decision yesterday. There’s still that part of it that it’s growing, and he’s got to get better in a lot of areas.”
Talks with the two-time All-Star have seemed to be the prescribed remedy set forth by Sveum and other members of the Cubs brass. When asked if what they’ve been saying to Castro has been getting through, Sveum said it’s a frustrating situation.
“I think there is a frustration level there sometimes,” he said. “You talk and you talk and then you see the same mistakes. I think the concentration level is better, but there’s still a timing part that’s got to get better.”