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Cubs’ Starlin Castro ignores reports as Chase Utley looms

Round and round Starlin Castro goes. Where he’ll stop not even he knows.

Never mind where Chase Utley stops next.

As Castro and the Cubs take a much-needed day off Monday following their weekend series win on the South Side, the specter of Utley – the Phillies’ six-time All-Star – looms over the playoff hopes of at least five contenders, including the Cubs.

And looms as the next big impact on the direction of Castro’s career.

“I don’t even think about that. I don’t even watch the news,” said Castro, the three-time All-Star shortstop, who made his first three big-league starts at second base over the weekend against the White Sox.

Utley, who is said to be back to All-Star form since his recent return from a season-long ankle injury, is using his full no-trade rights to mull several possible trade destinations that put him in playoff races – including an offer from the Cubs.

Some reports suggest he prefers a West Coast team closer to his California roots, which gives the Angels and Giants an edge.

Several industry sources also say playing time is a key factor for Utley, which could leave Castro the odd-man out, at least in terms of a chance at regular playing time – and possibly when it comes to his Cubs career.

“I can’t put something in my mind that I can’t control,” he said. “I try not to let those kinds of things bother me.

“I just come in every day and work had and try to do my best, and whatever they have to do with me, they’ll do it. I can’t control that.”

For all the feel-good performances and vibe flowing through these Cubs of late, one prominent Cub’s career has been turned on its head for the last week.

Benched from his starting shortstop job Aug. 7, then told a few days later to work at second base, Castro has regrouped and re-set his sights on a new place to try to establish himself as a starter – in an effort to regain his cornerstone status with the newly relevant Cubs.

“It’s not about me,” said Castro, who had three hits in Friday’s debut as a second base starter. “It’s not about Rizzo. It’s not about Bryant. It’s about us. That’s why we’re winning games. Because we’re together. We’re a team. Nobody’s thinking about himself. Everybody’s thinking about the team. We have one goal.”

If anyone on this team has a right to unplug from that team-first ethos under Joe Maddon, it’s Castro. But he insists on staying positive and plugged in, even as the team has untethered him from 5 ½ seasons of ritual and comfort zone.

“Every little opportunity that they give to me, I’ll try to take advantage,” said Castro, who admittedly was initially shaken and frustrated by the benching. “I don’t care if I don’t play at shortstop. If I can be at second base every day, that’s fine. I’ll just try to be out there. I think I can be good out there, too. I think I can help the team.”

Castro has looked spectacular at times and like a work in progress at others so far in the field at second. And even if Utley bypasses Chicago, there’s no guarantee Castro will be back in the starting lineup Tuesday against Detroit right-hander Anibal Sanchez.

But Maddon said he has a chance to earn the regular job at second, and the manager has raved about Castro’s attitude through the transition.

“I tell you one thing: He is ready to roll, man,” said Maddon. “I have a lot of respect for his work. He’s grinding out those at-bats. He cares. And I’ll defend anyone who cares.”

One thing is clear: Castro said he doesn’t want to leave this team, these friends, this moment.

Even if a change of scenery might be beneficial, too? “I can’t tell you that,” he said. “Because it’s not true.”

What he believes:

“We’ve been through a lot of bad moments with this team, and this moment right now is the moment that we’ve all been waiting for,” Castro said. “To be part of a winning team, to be part of a team that everybody mentions, where everybody that goes out there plays hard for nine innings and tries to win every game.

“I want to stay here.”