Starlin Castro’s focus on defense starting to pay off
BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter April 9, 2014 10:38PM
Pirates at cubs
The facts: 1:20 p.m., Ch. 9,
The pitchers: Gerrit Cole (1-0, 2.57 ERA) vs. Travis Wood (0-1, 4.26).
Updated: April 9, 2014 11:58PM
For all of the sudden production at the plate — including a pair of home runs Tuesday — shortstop Starlin Castro still knows his fielding is a critical part of how he’s viewed.
“I take early work every day,” said Castro, who came to spring training this year vowing to be more focused. “I come in here every day for defensive work. Every day.”
That included Wednesday, when he was the only player on the field hours before batting practice, taking grounders at short and working on tag plays at the bag. He made two exceptional plays in the first four innings: charging a roller in front of second to just get Pedro Alvarez in the second inning, and diving toward the middle and leaping to his feet to throw to first and rob Starling Marte of a hit in the fourth. He also ranged far into center field to catch a Travis Snider fly.
“I can see why he’s here for a while,” starter Jason Hammel said. “Outstanding ability. He made unbelievable plays up the middle for me tonight that shut down innings.”
“He’s been working very hard at trying to improve his game,” manager Rick Renteria said. “And he’s taking it very seriously. He’s got a little jump in his step.”
Kids to play?
Even before Mike Olt and Junior Lake hit back-to-back homers in the fifth Wednesday, Renteria said, “I’m hoping to start using them a little more back-to-back, versus lefties and righties. They need to find out who they are, too.”
The duo had five RBI.
“[Thursday’s] as good a day as any [to start],” Renteria said. “I’m confident in them. What we’re trying to build is the confidence that they should have within themselves.”
After pitching his first clean inning Tuesday, closer Jose Veras seemed at ease Wednesday.
“When you’re struggling for a couple outings, then you get a good one, it feels good for any pitcher,’’ Veras said.
It didn’t hurt to see Renteria rip into plate umpire Jeff Nelson over a tight strike zone.
“You don’t want to let your manager get thrown out,” Veras said, “but you feel good when you’ve got someone right there picking a fight for you.”