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Epstein, Cubs done tinkering with Castro

MILWAUKEE -- The most interesting news coming out of Milwaukee this week has nothing to do with Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum's job status, nor the dugout arguments that occurred in the first two games. It's not the lack of offense or the Cubs cementing themselves further into last place.

The most important issue that many Cubs fans will actually end up saying "I told you so" is the near admission that the team tinkered with former All-Star Starlin Castro's approach at the plate too much.

"Starlin is somebody we just want to be himself," Cubs president Theo Epstein said earlier in the week. "He's a pretty unique hitter. I think we made efforts to introduce him to the concept of getting pitches he can really drive because in the long run that will benefit him. But if that can't be accomplished without him being himself as a hitter than you just have to let time play its course and he'll naturally evolve that way."

The Cubs and Castro made a conscious decision after months of struggles to simply let him return to the player who led the National League in hits in 2011. He started the year batting second and seeing more pitches per plate appearance than ever before. The goal was to hit the better ones for more power. The results were a dismal five months with his batting average hovering around .240, and no real uptick in his slugging percentage.

"With Starlin, if you try to throw too much at him -- which maybe at times we've been guilty of -- who knows, I think we've always been conscious of letting him be himself," Epstein said. "In his case he's at his best if he's singlemindedly himself."

The Cubs' goals were admirable but it didn't work. However, Castro holds no grudges about it. He knew they were just trying to help, but already he says he feels more comfortable going back to being the aggressive hitter that he naturally is. He's doing more of that batting leadoff now.

"When I talked to him (a couple weeks ago) I told him he's going to be in the leadoff spot the rest of the year, I said 'Be Starlin Castro,'" Sveum said. "'Don't worry about taking pitches or seeing pitches, just go back to that kid that we know that can hit.'"

Castro has done that as he's seeing less pitches and having better at-bats. He's still not the complete hitter -- and it's not like his numbers have skyrocketed -- but first the Cubs want him to return to what he was and then let nature take its course. At worst, they believe time will develop more power or perhaps more walks.

"He's in a good place right now," Epstein said. "Back to being comfortable at the plate. He understands he's supported and can be himself. I think he naturally will become a little more selective without losing his aggressiveness."

Some might wonder why the Cubs didn't just leave him alone in the first place and in hindsight the team might agree. But as Epstein and others have said, Castro is a unique hitter and the team saw an opportunity to expand his game. Now it will have to expand on its own. No more tinkering which means the old Castro might emerge for all of 2014.

"I see a much more mature type hitter," Sveum said.

Which means he'll be left alone from now on.