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Catcher Welington Castillo takes his responsibilities seriously

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The Cubs’ hierarchy has made the franchise about the future, focusing on the potential stardom of hitters such as Javier Baez, Albert Almora and Kris Bryant and pitchers such as C.J. Edwards, Kyle Hendricks and Corey Black.

There isn’t a catcher among them, but the Cubs are counting on the one they have now to carry on.

‘‘When I was young, Geovany Soto was here and Henry Blanco was here,’’ said
Welington Castillo, who will turn 27 on April 24. ‘‘They were around and knew what to do. That’s me now.’’

Last season was Castillo’s first full one in the majors. He played in 113 games, starting 107, before missing the last nine with a torn meniscus in his right knee. He hit .274 with eight home runs and 32 RBI, threw out 24 percent of base-stealers and was first among major-league catchers in defensive wins above replacement at 2.8.

But Castillo already has made the mental transition to ‘‘veteran.’’

‘‘I spent a lot of time with my family [this winter] and worked hard to prepare
myself for the season,’’ he said. ‘‘And I prepared mentally because this game is hard. You have to be strong in your mind, so I prepared myself for the whole season, to play every day.’’

For new manager Rick Renteria, Castillo’s value is measured in intangibles as much as in numbers.

‘‘It’s nice to have him,’’ Renteria said. ‘‘He grew up in the organization and then grew up at the major-league level with the pitchers. The trust factor is important
[between pitcher and catcher] in how we move forward as a club.’’

The early numbers show the Cubs’ pitching staff is working well with Castillo, who has started four of the team’s first six games. The pitchers’ combined ERA is 2.57 in 421/3 innings throwing to him.

Castillo’s hitting numbers aren’t as good yet — he is hitting .118 (2-for-17) — but that is where his evolving maturity comes in.

‘‘It’s like you have to split yourself in two,’’ he said. ‘‘The No. 1 job for a catcher is to handle the pitching staff, try to call a good game and try to do everything you can to win the game. At the same time, when you have the bat in your hand, you want to score some extra points to provide
offense to win the game.

‘‘Before, I would feel bad about my defense and it would affect my offense. But I’m older now, so I know how to handle the situation where if my hitting doesn’t go well, I still have work to do behind the plate. In my mind, I have to do well with my catching. If I struggle with my offense, I can still help the team win with my defense.

‘‘I feel good about the pitchers when they do well. I know we have a really good pitching staff, and my job is to try to help them win.’’

That mind-set extends to the rest of the players, who look to Castillo as a stabilizing influence on the field.

‘‘When I’m catching, no matter how tough the game is, I have to keep in my mind that everyone is looking at me. The whole team is watching me, so I have to keep working hard so they work hard.

‘‘I think that’s part of being a leader for the team. When we had the long game in Pittsburgh, I was tired — 16 innings, long innings, tough situations in the game — but I talked to myself: ‘Be ready, be ready. Keep working hard. Keep your head up.’ . . . That’s how I view my job now.’’

Email: tginnetti@suntimes.com

Twitter: @toniginnetti



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