CHICAGO -- Remember these few days if this is the beginning of the return of the old Starlin Castro. The sometimes-embattled starting shortstop for the Chicago Cubs is locked in -- just as he was at the beginning of spring training, before an injured hamstring slowed him down.
"I got my feeling back," Castro said after belting two home runs in a 7-6 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday night.
Castro struggled through the first week of the season. But was that because he missed almost all of spring training or because he was picking up where left off last season, when he hit .245?
"He's just starting to get into a rhythm," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "You can't expect him to hit two homers every day, but his approaches are working."
The upward trend started Saturday, when Castro went 3-for-4. He had a hit Sunday. And the off day Monday didn't slow him down. Along with his first multiple-homer game Tuesday, he had a base hit to right, beating the shift that had him pulling the ball. Castro drove in four runs while batting sixth in the order and raised his batting average to .310.
"I want to hit with men in scoring position," Castro said. "[Renteria] puts me in that spot for a good reason. He trusts me."
For the second consecutive game Castro batted sixth, but it sounds as if that's only because Renteria stacked the top of the lineup with lefties. Plus, Castro had three hits in the No. 2 spot the last time he hit that high in the order. Renteria told Castro he wanted him in a spot to drive in runs. But there was a mental method to his madness in dropping him for a struggling offense.
"When you separate yourself from that and you're not part of that first inning that's not working well … you're a little separated from that failure," Renteria said of hitting Castro lower in the order. "Sometimes you do that just to give him a chance to sit back and watch everyone work in front of him a little bit. That's all."
Maybe it had an effect, maybe not. More than likely, Castro is just getting back into a groove after missing much of March in Arizona.
The hard work he put in this offseason is well documented. He came into the year in the best shape of his career and now his bat is catching up to the competition. Castro homered on a fastball and then a hanging curve.
"He put me there for a reason, a good reason," Castro repeated.
Whatever the reason for his surge, if the old Castro has returned, the Cubs will benefit mightily. And Renteria will deserve a lot of credit.