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Castro, Rizzo take it from the top in lineup shuffle

THURSDAY

NATIONALS AT CUBS

The facts: 1:20 p.m., Ch. 9, 720-AM.

The starters: Stephen Strasburg (6-9, 2.93 ERA) vs. Travis Wood (7-10, 3.13).

Updated: September 23, 2013 2:47PM



Manager Dale Sveum said he wanted to help Starlin Castro “get his swagger back” and didn’t want Anthony Rizzo to “have to think about being ‘the guy.’ ’’

So he put them 1-2 in the batting order against the Nationals on Wednesday — which happened to be the day after Castro said he was irked by being dropped to eighth and No. 3 man Rizzo dropped to .173 with men in scoring position.

In other words, what did the Cubs have to lose?

Call it reverse psychology, a vote of confidence, a last resort or throwing up their hands — the Cubs aren’t going anywhere the last six weeks of the season whether they keep the pressure on their slumping young core players or completely back off.

So take the wheel, boys — it’s all yours.

“Hopefully, we get [Castro] and Rizzo feeling good going into the winter,” Sveum said.

Sveum certainly was half-right for at least one night, as Rizzo hit a solo home run in his first at-bat and crushed another onto Sheffield for a two-run shot during the Cubs’ big five-run fifth inning in an 11-6 loss.

“That was the one good thing that came out of today,” Sveum said, “to see Castro single and hit a line drive to short. And to see Rizzo swing the bat like that.”

Rizzo has five homers in August, the first month since April that he has hit more than three.

Coincidence or not, he didn’t bat once with men in scoring position.

“I’d be a lot happier with my day if we took a win,” said Rizzo, who insisted he didn’t think too deeply about the lineup change and wouldn’t comment on what he thought about it before the game.

Castro said he and Rizzo talk “a lot” about the rough seasons they’re going through.

“It’s a bad season, but the only thing to do is finish strong and next year come in normal,” said Castro, who got a confidence boost, “for sure,” when he saw the lineup card and likes the idea of seeing better pitches in the top spot.

Sveum said the scrutiny on Castro and Rizzo — both of whom signed seven-year contracts in the last 12 months — probably has made it harder on the pair of 23-year-olds during a rebuilding process with little else for fans to focus on.

“Like I told Rizzo today, unfortunately or fortunately, it’s part of the gig,” Sveum said. “The one thing you don’t want to have happen is not being the focal point because that means something’s fizzled away. You always want to be the focal point when you’re in a big market, and obviously the good and the bad comes with that.

“When you’re not doing well, you’ve got to hear it. If you’re that guy who gets bothered by that, you better not read the papers and better not let it bother you. The worst thing players can do is worry about what other people think.”

Notes

Jake Arrieta showed his first glimpse to Cubs fans of why the Orioles were willing to give up on the young power pitcher in that Scott Feldman trade last month. After two stellar outings for his new team, Arrieta struggled with command and lasted only four rocky innings.

Donnie Murphy’s RBI single in the fifth was the Cubs’ first hit with a runner in scoring position since Monday.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com

Twitter: @GDubCub



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