Before tonight’s win against the Mets, Starlin Castro hadn’t had a day off since last season (August 22, to be exact). I’m sure he took some time off in the offseason before spring training, but many players tend to work out to stay in game shape and keep sharp. Even in spring training, when he wasn’t in the lineup, he’s probably working out in a practice field or otherwise living and breathing baseball. It’s safe to say the the young fella had a huge workload.
If you look at Castro’s body of work, he’s only had four days off in both 2010 (his debut season) and 2011. For being a 22-year-old superstar-in-the-making he has a ton of mileage on those legs. So it’s only appropriate that we wondered when Dale Sveum was going to give him a day off. This isn’t because he sucks (he doesn’t) or because we believe he should be punished for making silly mistakes (he should be taught but not in a way that looks bad), but because baseball is a marathon of a season and even the most durable of players will need a day off here and there. Even if you wanted to bench him, you really couldn’t because there goes a huge part of your offense…and if Darwin Barney‘s shaky defense tonight was any indication, you’d prefer Castro at SS anyway. Of course Barney hasn’t played shortstop in forever since becoming the full-time second baseman, so we’ll give him a pass. But Castro’s been improving at SS and that’s definitely encouraging.
Tonight, Starlin finally got a much-needed day off. He didn’t exactly get to lounge around and do nothing but eat sunflower seeds and blow bubbles, either. He was instructed to sit next to his manager and discuss scenarios. A learning day, if you will. I personally really liked this idea. Say what you will about Sveum’s lineup construction, decisions, and bullpen usage (you can say it, but then you look at what he has to work with and you realize it doesn’t much matter) but the man tries his best to prepare his players as best as possible.
I do hope it was a good experience and I’m sure we’ll hear more about it in the postgame as it’s released. Maybe they talked about footwork, designed plays, the proper positioning on a shift, and how to lead a fielder to the bag with a good throw. I feel that, through observation with my own lying eyes and checking the stat lines, whatever Sveum and his coaching staff is doing is helping Castro out. He looks more confident on throws, definitely more accurate than before. He still has his range and athleticism, and with a more accurate arm he could become a plus defender at shortstop, which is one of the most valuable assets a team can have before the bat is even accounted for.
Starlin didn’t get the whole day off, coming in as a double-switch late in the game and collecting an infield hit in two at-bats. He did make a good defensive play and maybe the six-inning breather was what he needed to collect his thoughts and absorb new baseball knowledge. I think Cubs fans should appreciate that there’s a good teacher on the bench, and that one of their best players appears to be a good student. In a season that’s all but lost, any incremental improvement is a blessing.