Castro, Rizzo are slumping, but Sveum remains calm
BY GORDON WITTENMYER email@example.com June 18, 2013 10:36PM
Updated: July 20, 2013 6:57AM
ST. LOUIS — Year 2 of the Epstein Plan was never going to be about winning pennants or showcasing MVPs.
But it was supposed to be about measurable progress with the Cubs’ young core, if not adding to that core.
Less than two weeks from the midpoint of the season, the plan has stalled.
The two every-day players the Cubs signed to long-term contracts in the last 10 months have struggled most of the season, Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo entering Tuesday with batting averages stuck at .241 and neither with an OPS of .800
Rizzo got his first day off of the season Tuesday as a “breather,” and manager Dale Sveum still hasn’t ruled out doing the same with Castro at some point if his struggles continue.
“It’d be a red flag if maybe you were [looking at] young players that hadn’t produced in the big leagues,” Sveum said before Tuesday’s 4-2 victory over the Cardinals. “But these guys obviously have produced.”
Castro, a two-time All-Star shortstop, led the league in hits two seasons ago and took a career .297 average into this season. Rizzo, the first baseman in his first full season in the big leagues, hit .285 with 15 homers and an .805 OPS in his 87-game Cubs debut last year.
“Obviously, Castro is a bigger sample [size]. But we’ve seen Rizzo have a lot of success and hit good pitching, and all kinds of pitching,” Sveum said. “It’s not a red flag that way. These guys will end up figuring it out.
“It’s just those processes that happen in careers.”
Sveum better be right if this rebuilding process is going to get done before team president Theo Epstein’s five-year contract is up.
The Cubs are banking on it — committing $111 million worth of seven-year contracts on the pair.
“It’s frustrating, the game’s beating me up a little bit right now,” said Rizzo, who’s in his second extended slump. “But that’s the game. I’m going to struggle, hopefully 30 more times in my career. I hope I can play that long.
“I’m going to get on a hot streak. It’s just a matter of hopefully learning from these and minimizing them and just trying to stay on an even keel.”
Rizzo, who was dropped from the No. 3 spot in the order to fifth on Friday, is just 8-for-51 this month (.157) and hasn’t hit a home run since May 18.
Castro, who returned last week to the No. 2 spot after spending a week in the 7-hole, is 9-for-63 (.143) this month.
“You go in knowing most hitters are going to struggle one month of the season; that’s just part of the game,” Sveum said. “Obviously, you don’t want your two core players doing it at the same time.”
Rizzo admits he has been “trying too much” at times recently. But he dismisses the speculation that the contract he signed last month has anything to do with it.
“I personally think that’s all just noise, outside noise,” he said. “People that know me know I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform. I’m a competitor. It doesn’t matter if I’m playing baseball, playing football, shooting basketball — no matter what I do, I want to win.”
Sveum said part of Rizzo’s struggles could be about pitchers having a bigger book on him now.
“But the bottom line is, we all know that hitting comes down to: When you get a good pitch, do something with it,” Sveum said. “Usually when you’re struggling — just like Castro — you’re seeing him get a lot of good pitches, but then [he’s hitting] a lot of foul balls.
“You become vulnerable when you’re not hitting the mistakes.”