CHICAGO — The road to recovery started in the offseason, only to hit a speed bump in spring training.
But during the time Starlin Castro was recovering from a hamstring strain and then coped with a sluggish start that rekindled the debate of whether he already had peaked at 24, the Cubs’ shortstop maintained the concentration that had wavered in the past.
“My mind is strong,” Castro said. “And I’m getting back to being the player I was before. I think I’m there now. I feel pretty good, and a lot of good things are coming.”
Castro’s rebound from a season-long malaise in 2013 that a well-publicized lack of concentration clouded further has quelled questions about his future as a productive player with the Cubs.
He has shown better judgment in knowing when to make quick throws or take more time because of a slow baserunner.
He has stabilized the Cubs’ cleanup spot despite his lack of experience and tools more suited to hitting higher in the batting order. Now he and his supporters aren’t shy about his potential to equal the 207 hits he accomplished in 2011 but hasn’t come close to attaining since.
“You want the bar that high,” said All-Star shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who had 212 hits during his 2007 National League most valuable player season and last week surpassed Mike Schmidt at the Phillies’ all-time hits leader.
“But people make adjustments. They start figuring out what you hit well in what counts and they stay away from it as much as they can. You have to re-adjust back to them. He’s making the adjustments this year and getting his hits.”
With 92 games left this season, Castro’s batting average is 46 points higher than his career-low .245 mark of last year. He already has equaled his 2013 home run total with 10, and he is on pace to surpass his career high of 78 RBIs in 2012 with the benefit of batting cleanup.
After Tuesday’s victory over the Marlins, Castro said he hasn’t felt this good since his rookie season in 2010, when he hit .300 in 125 games.
“I don’t go up there and give at-bats to anybody,” Castro said. “That happened to me last year a lot.”
At the same time, talk of Castro working deeper counts is virtually nonexistent as he is batting .395 swinging at the first pitch.
“Be aggressive, but be selective,” Castro said. “Don’t swing at their pitch. My pitch.”
First year hitting coach Bill Mueller says the “crazy thing” about Castro is he has the ability to hit pitches out of the strike zone. But, he cautions, that can’t last forever.
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