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Starlin’s slide began after Sveum’s ‘demotion’ comment

Updated: June 11, 2013 1:42PM

How much of Starlin Castro’s declining production is about mechanics and approach? How much is about the voices from the organization trying to get more out of the two-time All-Star who had a 200-hit season before he turned 22?

It’s the yin and yang of the worst slump of the Cubs’ most talented hitter’s career.

What seems certain is his struggles aren’t about a letdown after signing that seven-year, $60 million extension.

Enduring sleepless nights and an up-and-down season while negotiations progressed last season, he went from .272 before the agreement in August to .311 with a .370 on-base percentage (.851 OPS) the rest of the season.

What seems just as certain: The noise in his head so far is a bigger issue than his hands and footwork.

Castro confirmed Monday that when manager Dale Sveum said three weeks into the season that neither he nor Anthony Rizzo were exempt from demotions if they didn’t produce, he was “pissed off.”

Upset enough that his agent called the front office the next day to voice his displeasure with the public message that seemed at least extreme.

Maybe it’s no coincidence that was the last day Castro’s average was .300 or better. The day before was the last day his OPS was over .800.

“Yeah, that’s what I mean,” ­Castro said of why he was upset. “What about now?”

Within weeks, Castro’s critics seemed to be growing, Castro ­redoubled efforts with hitting coach James Rowson — admittedly, “kind of pressing a little bit” — and last week he was dropped to seventh in the order.

By the weekend, Sveum talked publicly about benching him — though the manager backed off Monday.

Castro, who never talked with Sveum about those comments in April, said he has no problem with his manager or the coaching staff.

But between that episode, the added scrutiny, and the voices coming at him as he fights out of his slump, even he wonders if that’s part of his struggles.

“I don’t know, man. Probably,” he said. “It’s my first time being in [this] situation.”

He tries to filter out the negatives, he said.

“But I’m not a machine,” he said. “Everybody has a slump. ... It’s baseball. [Albert] Pujols is one of the best hitters and he’s hitting .240 [for the Angels this season].”

Sveum said he doesn’t think ­Castro’s problems are about the messages from the staff.

For one thing, Sveum and his staff focused more on fielding with Castro until this year.

“A lot of it has to do with the way people pitch him,” Sveum said. “You have to adjust. Like Travis Wood adjusted. You have to adjust to how people hit, and how people pitch.”

But could it just be the mental stuff? “Nobody knows what goes on [in a guy’s head],” Sveum said.

Castro says he’s confident this slump is a matter of time and that once the hard-hit balls start falling again, “I can get hot [and finish] unbelievable. … I know I can get out of it.”

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