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For Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro, the sky’s the limit

Tony Campanreacts StarlCastro’s glove-to-hcatch Tuesday against White Sox. | Charles Rex Arbogast~AP

Tony Campana reacts to Starlin Castro’s glove-to-hand catch Tuesday against the White Sox. | Charles Rex Arbogast~AP

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Updated: July 23, 2012 7:40AM

The catch Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro made Tuesday — a play on which he sprinted into left-center field to reach Alejandro De Aza’s no-man’s-land pop-up, only to have it bounce out of his glove before he bare-handed it for the out — is why you don’t trade this guy.

Well, that and his ability to hit
almost any major-league pitch hard.

And this: For a guy who has yet to play a game of consequence in nearly 2½ seasons in the big leagues, look what happens when the local stakes are raised.

Castro had four hits, including a home run, in victories against the White Sox on Monday and Tuesday. His career batting average is nearly 20 points higher and his
career OPS is nearly 30 points higher against the Sox than anyone else, and he entered play Wednesday with a .481 batting average and a 1.241 OPS at U.S. Cellular Field.

‘‘I don’t know if he brings any more [when the stage is bigger],’’ said teammate Tony Campana, who has known Castro since rookie ball. ‘‘It’s just in the big games, when
everyone’s watching, he knows
everyone’s watching and likes showing everybody how good he is.’’

Imagine what that might mean in a September that matters, not to mention in October.

‘‘That’s what I think about,’’ Castro said. ‘‘All my three years, it’s been a little bit tough with the team. But when it’s a good series, like with Boston, playing close games and coming to a good series like this one, it’s like a seven-game [postseason] series or something.’’

Forget all the noise about Castro’s lapses in the field, that he’s not president Theo Epstein’s kind of work-the-count hitter or that he somehow has been negatively affected by the Cubs’ losing culture or even certain veteran players.

At 22, Castro is younger than several top prospects in the game, including Anthony Rizzo; he’s vastly improved as a fielder this season; he has more pure hitting skills than all but a handful of big-league players; and he’s one of the most self-motivated players in the clubhouse.

When a national media outlet
erroneously reported a few weeks ago that the Cubs had told teams Castro was available in a trade, one National League executive said: ‘‘That would be stupid.’’

Even Epstein, who fired hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo last week
because he wanted to see an emphasis on ‘‘selective aggressiveness,’’ views Castro as an important building block for the Cubs’ future.

‘‘There’s more than one way to be a successful hitter in the big leagues,’’ Epstein said. ‘‘Starlin is an aggressive hitter, and he’s a
really good hitter. He’s a very
accomplished hitter, but he’s still relatively inexperienced.

‘‘Most players his age are in
Double-A, trying to figure out how to get on base against Double-A pitching, and he’s doing it in the big leagues. I think he’s always going to be an aggressive hitter, but I think as he develops more power — and that will happen — pitchers will be more careful with him. Then he’ll adjust back and be a little bit more patient and get on base some more.’’

Meanwhile, Castro already has been an All-Star, a two-time .300 hitter and the 2011 NL hits king. And he takes losses and big-stage series such as this one personally.

‘‘When you’re playing the White Sox and you go out to dinner, Sox fans say, ‘Oh, the Cubs suck!’ ’’ he said. ‘‘It’s fun to win anyway, but here it’s fun, too, because then that doesn’t happen. They can come to me and say, ‘Good game.’ ’’

How personally does he take his game? How focused can he get?
Rewind to the catch Tuesday.

‘‘I wanted that catch,’’ Castro said, remembering that De Aza took a hit away from him Monday. ‘‘You make one on me, I make one on you.’’

For now, it’s the crosstown series. But he holds on to a playoff vision.

‘‘I want to be there,’’ he said. ‘‘Like [Derek] Jeter, all the time. . . . And not just playoffs, but winning in the playoffs and getting to the World Series.’’

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