MIAMI – Starlin Castro has lived with the criticism, the trade rumors, the occasional booing from the home fans – even jokes and cheap shots – almost as long as he’s been collecting major league hits and All-Star appearances as the Cubs’ shortstop.
But despite a vow in April that he doesn’t “want to be no joke anymore,” that’s not what bothers him most on nights like Monday, when he muffed a routine grounder – or last Wednesday, when he made two errors.
It’s teammates he thinks most about. When he gets quietest and most serious in the clubhouse, that’s what he talks about.
“I want to show I can be better every day. I want to make people trust me,” he said. “Try to make my teammates confident, to say, `Oh, this is a ground ball to short, it’s an out no matter what.’
“That’s really important. It’s important to me and the team. Everybody trusts you when you’re really good out there, and you make every play – or you try to make every play – and they see you every day try to get better.
“Not stay in the same spot. But try to take it to another level.”
Teammates haven’t gotten on Castro for some of his past errors or lapses, he said. And he’s encouraged by the fact most of his 12 errors have been caused by basics he can fix.
If anything, several have publicly lauded a difference they see in him in the field this season. But nine of those errors have come in the last month alone –mostly on routine plays.
The anger over his fielding is conspicuous for a three-time All-Star whose ninth-inning single Tuesday made him the youngest Cub in history to reach 900 hits – barely two months past his 25th birthday.
After his seventh-inning error on Monday, he came up in the eighth and drove an especially long homer to left, his first in more than three weeks.
“That’s what I’m talking about,” Maddon said. “I’m telling you, the guy gets upset. He was upset with himself after the play. That was an absolute bomb.”
But then came the moment the studio highlight types love to hate – with Castro taking an exaggerated, slow trip around the bases.
ESPN showed it on SportsCenter with a timer in the corner of the screen – counting 30 long seconds to round the bases.
Maddon considered it a cheap shot.
“It just speaks to the superficial component within our game,” the manager said. “It’s also whoever you want to target. If it’s an easy target, you time him; if it’s not, you don’t time him.
“I was rather amused by it, and I have no problem with it.”
Castro said it was an unscripted moment of emotion on the first day after a .221 May with twice as many errors (eight) as extra-base hits.
“I didn’t do it to offend nobody,” he said. “It was a long time since I hit a home run. May was a tough month. I just started in June and hit one right away. It made me excited.”
Maybe if he doesn’t make the error that cost starting pitcher Jason Hammel a chance to finish the seventh, then pimping the eighth-inning shot is more easily shrugged off by critics.
But Castro doesn’t need critics to tell him what he needs to do become the kind of teammate at short he aspires to be. To stay aggressive. To anticipate better.
“That pisses me off when I make an error I’m not supposed to make,” said Castro, who looked re-energized Tuesday, making spectacular plays ranging deep up the middle in both the seventh and eighth.
He robbed Marlins speedy leadoff man Dee Gordon of a hit on the first one, gloving a shot toward the middle and spinning to throw him out by a half-step. In the eighth, he dove toward center to snare Marcell Ozuna’s drive, then threw a one-hopper to first from his knees for the out.
“Tremendous defense,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I know it’s in there. … I love his work. My conversations with him are fabulous. He’s going to keep getting better.”
Castro promised “a lot more coming” after the milestone hit, and is confident he’ll reach 1,000 this year.
But he’s promising even more in the field. He hasn’t given up on Maddon’s challenge to him in spring training to win a Gold Glove this year.
“That’s really important in my career,” he said. “I know I can hit. I can do a lot of hitting. But a Gold Glove’s really important.”
And it starts with more games in the field like Tuesday’s, more reasons to believe anything hit toward short is a sure out. With making teammates believe.
“I trust the guy,” Maddon said.