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Dale Sveum pulls Starlin Castro from game after shortstop’s ‘big blunder’

St Louis Cardinals v Chicago Cubs

St Louis Cardinals v Chicago Cubs

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Updated: September 19, 2013 10:18AM

Starlin Castro continues to confound.

The Cubs have to ask themselves if the 23-year-old shortstop is the cornerstone player they envisioned when they lavished a seven-year, $60 million contract on him.

A .244 batting average with 32 RBI explained Castro as the No. 7
hitter in manager Dale Sveum’s lineup that faced the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday. Of greater concern was another instance of grossly inattentive play that cost the Cubs a run in their 4-0 loss
before 41,981 fans on a postcard-pretty Wrigley Field afternoon.

Starter Travis Wood trailed 1-0 as he faced a one-out, bases-loaded predicament in the fifth inning. Matt Carpenter hit a pop-up behind shortstop, short enough that he was called out on the infield-fly rule. Castro backpedaled into short left field, then made an exaggerated follow-through on the catch, pulling his hands below his waist as he jogged toward the left-field line, oblivious to the baserunners. Jon Jay saw he was being ignored, so he tagged at third and sped home ahead of Castro’s late, wide throw for the Cardinals’ second run.

“He made a big blunder there, obviously,” Sveum said. “He lost track of what was going on, for whatever reason, and I pulled him out of the game.”

Sveum wasn’t buying any “explanations,” such as Castro’s relative inexperience — at 23, he has played in 566 big-league games. To Sveum it was a brain cramp, pure and simple, one in a series that calls Castro’s future into question despite his obvious talent.

“We’re reaching here,” he said. “There is no explanation. A guy caught a pop-up and the runner should have stayed at third base. He didn’t, and it cost us. When you’ve played that much baseball, you’ve got to do better.”

Given how the post-Alfonso
Soriano Cubs have been hitting, a 2-0 deficit is nearly insurmountable. They managed five hits and were shut out for the fifth time in their last seven home games and for the sixth time in 21 games since Soriano was traded to the Yankees last month. By the time Yadier Molina doubled the deficit with a two-run home run in the sixth, Castro had been excused for the day.

“First time I’ve done that in my short managerial career,” Sveum said.

Was it a one-day benching?

“I don’t know,’’ he said. ‘‘We haven’t got there yet.”

Castro faced the music after the game, acknowledging he’d made “a big mistake” and had apologized to his coaches and his teammates, “especially Woody.”

“I feel really bad,” he said. “There’s no excuse. You have to pay attention to the game. You can’t make those mental mistakes. I made one, and I had to pay for it. That’s why I came out of the game.”

Wood, now 7-10 despite a 3.13 ERA, was more upset by the breaking ball he hung to Molina, though he acknowledged being a bit unnerved by Castro’s gaffe.

“I ran into a little problem in the fifth, but I thought I’d worked around it pretty good,” he said. “It was a heads-up play on Jay’s part when he saw [Castro] wasn’t paying attention.”

Castro has six weeks in which to salvage what is becoming a forgettable season. He’s hitting .244 after a strikeout and a double-play grounder — 46 points below his
career average entering the season. And his concentration lapses have to be addressed.

“Mistakes like today, my struggles at the plate — it’s really bad,” he said. “I work hard every day. I keep my head up. I don’t take my at-bats out to the field with me. I will continue to work hard. I still want to be good.”

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