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‘Growing’ Starlin Castro puts on show at short in Cubs’ opener

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

The first play of the game Friday was exactly what Cubs manager Mike Quade is looking for, even if the 6-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates wasn’t.

A ground ball up the middle was ticketed for center field until shortstop Starlin Castro overtook it, whirled and threw to Carlos Pena at first to retire leadoff man Jose Tabata.

“You saw it,’’ Quade said of the first of several dazzling plays by the young shortstop, including a diving grab in the ninth of Lyle Overbay’s liner toward left to start an inning-ending double play. “He keeps growing.

“I’m a little too reserved about saying too much, but he’s maturing right Before our eyes. It was a real nice debut for him. And his mate at second [rookie Darwin Barney] did a nice job, too.’’

The rookie tag no longer applies to Castro, who turned 21 a week ago and played in his first season opener.

“I feel real comfortable because ­people look at me as a player and not a rookie,” he said. “It’s more respect.’’

The Cubs’ touted prospect won’t have played a full season until May, yet so much of the team’s hopes rides on his development, especially in the field. Castro’s promise was apparent in his eye-opening offensive debut May 7 — when he hit a three-run homer in his first at-bat and a three-run triple later — even if 27 errors clouded his fielding potential. Spring training began with errors, too, but those faded as camp unfolded.

For a team that was second-to-last in the majors in defense last season, improved fielding is a must.

“We want to be a better defensive ballclub,’’ Pena said. “I loved that we made the routine plays and we made some extraordinary plays, with Castro going up the middle there at the beginning of the game. I love to see that type of hustle.’’

Castro credits coach Ivan DeJesus with guiding his progress at short.

“He played that position and played it well,’’ said Castro, whose improving command of English is telling, as well.

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