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Sveum thinks Castro can rebound

3/2/2014
Former Cubs manager Dale Sveum thinks shortstop Starlin Castro can return to All-Star form. Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune/MCT/Getty Images

MESA, Ariz. -- Former Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum thinks shortstop Starlin Castro can return to All-Star form and admits the Cubs may have tried to change Castro’s hitting style too much.

“He was asked to take a lot of pitches and do all those kinds of things,” Sveum said before the Kansas City Royals played the Cubs on Sunday in a Cactus League game. “What if you had asked (free swinger) Vladimir Guerrero to walk and take pitches. If he’s just Starlin Castro and that’s all, is he going to get 200 hits all the time? Who knows that but I think he’s a .280 to .310 hitter on a consistent basis.”

Sveum is the third base coach of the Royals now and many link his firing last October to the regression in Castro’s game. Castro had 207 hits while batting .307 the year before Sveum became his manager, then dipped to .283 and .245 in two years under Sveum. But Sveum’s arrival coincided with the new front office, which takes as much blame as anyone for Castro’s problems.

“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,” Team President Theo Epstein said last September. “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.

"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. In his case he's at his best if he's single-mindedly himself.”

So as much as Sveum was responsible for the day-to-day development of his star player, he was also taking marching orders from above. The one area that Sveum was responsible for was where Castro hit in the order. Sveum had him penciled in at every spot in the batting lineup, including a fateful day in August batting eighth. It was the one time Castro was visibly upset.

“It’s a little different when you’re batting No. 2, then the next day No. 5, then No. 7, it’s not good,” Castro said Sunday morning. “It was too much (moving around).”

Sources say the front office and possibly Castro’s agent intervened after that day. He batted leadoff the rest of the season and had many of his best at-bats. Sveum has no hard feeling toward anyone -- he’s texted and talked with Epstein this spring -- and feels Castro can be his old self.

“He has that hand/eye coordination and mechanics at the plate to do it.” Sveum said. “When they have an off year, it’s going to be magnified.”