GLENDALE, Ariz. – After a rough night in the field on Thursday, questions about Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro’s defense have come up again. Sometimes he’s spectacular; other times the routine play can get the best of him. He didn’t look sharp against the Diamondbacks -- committing an error and bobbling several other balls. The error led to two unearned runs.
“Those things are going to happen sometimes,” Castro said on Friday. “It’s not going to happen every time. [It’s] less time than it used to be happening.”
Castro might be right; he is getting better at eliminating some mental mistakes, at least, and maybe he’ll elevate his game on a better team. But juxtaposed with the smoother Addison Russell in camp, Castro looks like the second-best defender at shortstop despite being a three-time All-Star. Plus, he’s bigger than when he first broke into the league and maybe not as quick at the most important defensive position on the field. And yes, he's scrutinized for that reason. All shortstops are.
“I like boring,” manager Joe Maddon stated. “I like a very boring defense, meaning they make the routine play consistently and then if you make the big play on occasion, that’s wonderful.”
Maybe Castro can be likened to a goalie in hockey who makes spectacular saves throughout a game but then lets an easy goal in. It’s the goal everyone will remember. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Castro ranked 16th of 22 shortstops in the league in defensive runs saved with a minus-7 last season. He did have the best fielding percentage (.973) of his career but had the fewest amount of chances because of games missed. Castro was visibly upset with himself when he booted the ball on Thursday not long before two runners came across to score.
Castro was visibly upset with himself when he booted the ball on Thursday not long before two runners came across to score.
“If you play defense, you can win the game,” Castro said simply. “That’s really a routine ball. I want to make that play every time.”
Maddon wants those routine ones made every time as well. So do all managers. He opined on the positive vibe a manager gets when he looks out on the field before the game and knows he’s covered defensively. He also knows the opposite feeling.
“Our toughest years in Tampa Bay are when we did not make routine plays, period,” Maddon said.
What’s the answer? For Maddon, it’s about the routine of drill work. Even into the regular season.
“I love drill work,” Maddon said. “I think drill work done properly pays dividends. Drill work done improperly does not. What does that mean? You have to put something into it. You cannot let bad techniques slide. You have to correct it. All those things are in-process with Starlin right now.”
Maddon was quick to point out that Castro has been working hard and is hopeful it pays off. The goal, according to Castro, is simple.
“Win a Gold Glove,” he said.
Let’s start with making all the routine plays.