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MORRISSEY: Starlin Castro’s mistakes are no lapsing matter

Updated: September 20, 2013 6:29AM



It was a spectacular day at Wrigley Field on Sunday afternoon, with blue skies and a few glimpses of the nearby Chicago Air and Water Show offering blessed escape from the baseball.

Underneath the firmament stood Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro. There were no clouds for his head to be in, only the memory of Saturday’s airhead show.

He shouldn’t have been on the field Sunday, not after his mental error the day before. He should have been sitting on the Cubs’ bench, mulling over his lack of concentration on a play that allowed the St. Louis Cardinals to score a run, but also thinking about where his career is going.

Manager Dale Sveum’s decision to put him right back in the lineup sent the message that this was just another gaffe in a series of gaffes, one no bigger than any other.

This one felt more important. This one felt like a line being drawn, a toe being dragged in the infield dirt. Enough. Time to decide if you want to be a real big-leaguer, kid.

How can I put this without sounding like a summer Scrooge? Castro acts as if it’s all a game. That sounds ridiculous on face value because baseball is a game and should be fun. But the realist in all of us knows that’s a small part of the truth. This is a business, and the Cubs made a very big business decision a year ago when they signed him to a seven-year, $60 million contract extension.

Sveum benched Castro after the fifth inning Saturday, when he caught a fly ball in shallow left, then momentarily forgot about the Cards’ Jon Jay at third. Jay tagged up and scored.

Sveum said he can’t explain Castro’s lapses, can’t account for the times he forgets how many outs there are or what the strategic situation is in front of him. But he says the kid cares.

‘‘It’s a fist fight,’’ Sveum said before the Cubs’ 6-1 loss Sunday. ‘‘I’m not going to sit here and say it’s easy. I’m not going to put words in his mouth. But there’s nobody who wants to do those things. I don’t care who you are. You don’t want to do that in front of 3 million people watching on TV and 40,000 people in the stands, either.’’

I don’t think the Cubs are in defense mode, though they certainly wish Castro would be in the infield. I think they’re in the We-don’t-know-what-else-to-do! mode. Or the We’re-investing-$60-million-in-this-guy? mode. Or the Somebody-get-us-out-of-this-nightmare! mode.

There’s a nonchalance to Castro that is maddening. It’s as if, somewhere along the way, he decided to emulate Aramis Ramirez rather than Alfonso Soriano.

I’m not sure what the harm would have been in sitting Castro. That it might hurt his confidence? Nothing has gotten through to him. If it had, he wouldn’t be making the same kinds of mistakes.

‘‘These kind of things obviously happen from time to time,’’ Sveum said. ‘‘They’re getting less and less [frequent]. I don’t think this kid can get better by not playing.’’

Just because Castro took responsibility immediately after Saturday’s game doesn’t lessen his problem. The Cubs have talked with him about his mental mistakes since he came into the league four years ago. The meetings, powwows, interventions — whatever you want to call them — haven’t worked.

He has no problem with the purely physical plays, like his leaping grab of a line shot in the seventh inning Sunday. The mental part? A mysterious condition that comes and goes.

‘‘I put it on myself that that can’t happen anymore,’’ he said after Sunday’s game.

The Cubs forgave most of his blunders in the past because he was young and he was a very good hitter. And you do have to leave room for the fact that he’s only 23. But he has played a lot of games in his career, and he is hitting .244 this season.

The Cubs are partly to blame for his woes at the plate. He’s a natural-born hitter, good enough to get hits off bad pitches. That’s how he hit .300 as a rookie and how he had 207 hits the following season. The club’s more recent emphasis on walks and on-base percentage seems to have squeezed the aggressiveness out of him at the plate. It’s like asking a carnivore to frequent the salad bar.

All in all, this is a confused kid. He could have used more time to ponder what he wants to be when he grows up.



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