The Cubs have some options. Do they still have the patience to let a .244-hitting Starlin Castro daydream at shortstop?
That question will be answered Sunday, after Dale Sveum and the guys in the front office finish shaking their heads about Castro falling asleep after catching fly ball in short left field during the fifth inning that gave an alert Jon Jay a chance to dash home from third base.
It wasn’t an overly significant moment in Saturday’s game, a 4-0 Cardinals’ victory before a crowd of 41,981 at Wrigley Field, but could serve as a defining moment for Castro and the Theo Epstein regime, which is making progress in the minor leagues but little over the short run in the National League.
Sveum benched the 23-year-old Castro shortly after the mental mistake, which Castro called “a first for my career.” A contrite Castro apologized to losing pitcher Travis Wood, his teammates and Sveum’s coaching staff for his lapse afterward.
“I know the outs, the situation, I just (put) my head down,” Castro said. “I feel really, really bad for that happening, especially with Woody pitching good. I have to pay for that.”
Sveum was relatively diplomatic. He referred to the play as a “big blunder” and said “there’s no explanation” for it. He could have been referring to a more general question — how a fourth-year shortstop with a $60-million contract can continue to make rookie mistakes?
Sveum was non-committal when asked if Castro would be in the lineup Sunday.
“(We) haven’t got that far yet,” he said.
With Donnie Murphy on the big-league roster, Triple-A Iowa needs a shortstop for its last two weeks. Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer could try shock therapy and demote Castro, who has played 566 games since he came up from Double A in 2010.
Fans would love to see Javy Baez, who hit his 31st home run Friday night, but less dramatic possibilities are more likely. Murphy, who started at shortstop Wednesday against the Reds, made only nine errors in 73 games as Iowa’s shortstop.
Focus has been a consistent problem for Castro, who famously was called out by ESPN announcer Bobby Valentine for spitting sunflower seeds when he should have been watching a pitch during a game in 2011.
“There are only so many meetings, so many things you can say,” Sveum said. “When you’ve played this much baseball, you have to do it yourself.”
Castro’s regression at the plate this season makes his failure to eliminate mental mistakes in the field even tougher to take. He arrived at Wrigley Field as a tough out at age 20 but has been getting himself out on a regular basis since midway through the 2012 season.
A .308 hitter when Rudy Jaramillo was fired as hitting coach, he has hit .254 in 900 at-bats since then, with this year’s average down to .244. He no longer commands much respect at the plate, which Sveum acknowledged by dropping him to seventh in the batting order.
Castro ranked fourth among the regular shortstops in OPS in 2010, his rookie season, with his .755 behind only Troy Tulowitzki, Hanley Ramirez and Stephen Drew among batting-title qualifiers. He’s currently fifth from the bottom on that list, with his .623 ahead of Elvis Andrus, Adeiny Hechavarria, Alcides Escobar and Pete Kozma.
Sveum’s hope is that Castro finally has hit rock bottom.
“I feel really bad,” Castro said. “This is a day I’ll never forget the rest of my life.”