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Benched for Cubs’ loss to Braves, Starlin Castro sorry for lounging

Chicago Cubs Vs AtlantBraves. Chicago Cubs No.13 StarlCastro places another hfull  seeds his mouth team bench. August 22 2011

Chicago Cubs Vs Atlanta Braves. Chicago Cubs No.13 Starlin Castro places another hand full of seeds in to his mouth on the team bench. August 22, 2011 I Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 20, 2011 2:20AM

The spotlight continues to shine on the player considered the cornerstone of a brighter Cubs future.

But it can cast a suspicious light, too, as it did Sunday night during a nationally televised ESPN broadcast. Starlin Castro, the 21-year-old shortstop who leads the National League in hits (164) in only his second season, was caught on camera with his back to the infield in the sixth inning as relief pitcher James Russell finished his warm-up and was about to pitch.

ESPN analyst and former major-league manager Bobby Valentine spent time dissecting the transgression and criticizing Castro, who was benched Monday by Cubs manager Mike Quade over the matter.

Quade didn’t see it when it happened but promised reporters afterward that he would examine film. He watched enough — with the sound muted to disregard Valentine’s comments (‘‘I make my own decisions’’) — and decided ‘‘a mental day’’ off was in order.

So was a long talking-to.

The punishment didn’t necessarily include a call for apologies, but a contrite Castro spent most of Monday handing them out on his own to his teammates before a 3-0 loss to the Atlanta Braves.

‘‘I want to say I’m sorry to my teammates and it will never happen again,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m real embarrassed. There’s no excuse for that. That can’t happen in a game. That will never happen again.’’

It wasn’t the first time this season that Quade has singled out Castro for gametime lapses. He blamed the Cubs’ 9-1 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies on July 20 — a game which included two errors by first baseman Carlos Pena and only four Cubs hits — on a dropped ball between Castro and second baseman Darwin Barney in the first inning. Quade’s harsh words for the young players drew sharp criticism of their own.

It may have been coincidence that team owner Tom Ricketts decided to end Jim Hendry’s tenure as general manager July 22 as the Cubs’ record had sunk to 39-60.

The latest incident drew an unusual amount of attention from Valentine, given he had the chance Sunday to probe more far-reaching issues about the team during an interview with Ricketts.

Still, Quade said, Castro ‘‘disappointed’’ him, and youth was not an excuse. Castro agreed.

‘‘Myself,’’ he said of responsibility. ‘‘Everyone helps me here — teammates and the coaches. But this thing is myself. It will never happen again.’’

Castro said Quade repeated to him Monday a season-long mantra — the need to concentrate more.

Asked if he thought at the time that Russell wasn’t yet ready to pitch, ‘‘I don’t even know,’’ Castro said. ‘‘After the game, I saw that play. [Alfonso] Soriano told me, ‘Hey, did you see that?’ I didn’t even know.

‘‘Nothing, nothing is an excuse for that. Nothing. I pay for that [getting benched.] That’s why I’m not playing today.’’

Quade said talent can make up for some mistakes, but it also can require more discipline.

‘‘It’s not acceptable, not good, and he feels terrible,’’ Quade said. ‘‘But it is something we’ve been after him about — focus — from Day 1.

‘‘The youth thing, as far as focus, is no excuse. He understands that, and now he has to do it. He can, and I believe he will.’’

The coaching staff works constantly with Castro and the other young players, Quade said.

‘‘I don’t know how people can get any more involved than they are,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s up to Starlin. All the noise about what other players should or shouldn’t do [to help him] — I’m a personal responsibility guy. I know he understands and feels bad.’’

Monday’s game might not have been different even with Castro playing. The Cubs outhit the Braves 9-6 but stranded 15 runners while hitting only 2-for-14 with runners in scoring position. Ryan Dempster (10-9) took the loss, giving up two solo homers among six hits.

‘‘You have an obligation to the game of baseball to play hard,’’ Dempster said. ‘‘This is the time of the year people are tired, but you go out with a valid heart and play to the last game.’’

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