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Cubs lean on Castro, Cashner and Colvin

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

PHOENIX — By now, anybody who has paid any attention to the Cubs over the last eight or nine months knows the importance of big seasons from veterans such as Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Zambrano in 2011.

But the other end of the roster spectrum — the end without the big-money big names — might be every bit as important.

‘‘The young guys are going to be better — [Andrew] Cashner, [Starlin] Castro and [Tyler] Colvin,’’ Ramirez said. ‘‘And that’s going to be key. We need them to take the next step. And I think they will.’’

How much better? And how key?

By the end of last season, the three rookies were starting to inspire nicknames like ‘‘The Killer C’s.’’ But how they back that up this year could be as big of a factor as any in how the Cubs bounce back from a fifth-place finish last year — especially if Cashner wins one of two available rotation jobs, as anticipated.

So far this spring:

† Castro, the .300-hitting rookie shortstop with 27 errors last year, is being counted on as the No. 2 hitter in the lineup going into the season, but he required a sit-down with manager Mike Quade over fielding issues just two games into the spring.

† Cashner, who finished 2010 as a dominant late-inning reliever, has shown enough to confirm the Cubs’ faith in his upside as a starter. As recently as Tuesday, he showed impressive power and deception but also used up his 70-pitch limit in just 31/3 innings because of deep counts and walks.

†  Colvin, the 20-homer rookie outfielder whose season ended with a frightening broken-bat injury last September, hit his second homer of the spring Tuesday but has been up and down at the plate and had a few mistakes in the field early.

‘‘I can’t expect to do what I did last year every spring,’’ said Colvin, who was expected to start 2010 at Class AAA until hitting his way onto the roster last spring. ‘‘It’s definitely a different spring for me. But you’ve still got to go out there and compete and try to get ready and get hits now.’’

Quade likes what he’s seeing from all of the sophomore big boys and so far has no concerns about Colvin’s inconsistent spring.

‘‘I think he’s going to hit the ball out of the ballpark,’’ Quade said, adding, ‘‘He’s going to have some adjustments to make. But I’m OK with him. He’s played very well defensively the last few days, and I think the bat takes care of itself. I really do.’’

Certainly, the so-called sophomore jinx is hanging in the background with everything the trio does going into this season, especially after Geovany Soto and Randy Wells followed strong rookie seasons with sophomore slumps the last two seasons, respectively.

‘‘The second-year thing is there for a reason,’’ Quade said.

But Castro said he and the two others are working and planning not only to avoid the ‘‘jinx’’ but to be even better than last year.

‘‘You don’t worry about any of that stuff,’’ said Colvin, whose in-season adjustments impressed Cubs officials. ‘‘You start thinking about it, you’ll start believing it.’’

Castro, who had hits in six straight plate appearances over the weekend and is hitting .444 this spring, said he understands how important — ‘‘very important’’ — the development of the three amigos is to this year’s Cubs. And he says he’s ready for the challenge.

If they can pull off the second-year success, the only question by the end of the season might be what kind of nickname they settle on.

Killer C’s? C Monsters of the Midway?

‘‘I don’t know,’’ Castro said. ‘‘I don’t care. I feel good with my normal name.’’

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