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updated: 8/24/2013 6:39 PM

Can Cubs' Castro find his comfort zone?

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  • While he looks comfortable here, Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro, second from left, hasn't played that way at the plate or in the field this season.

      While he looks comfortable here, Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro, second from left, hasn't played that way at the plate or in the field this season.
    Associated Press

 
 

The terrible offensive season of Starlin Castro has made us all psychologists and hitting coaches.

Those roles are often one and the same anyway.

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He's taken his struggles into the field, allowing distraction that leads to debacles like last weekend's play against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Is it his confidence? Is it the coming and going of the leg kick in his swing?

I think it's the Cubs understandable efforts to make him a more patient hitter.

The benefits of seeing more pitches are abundant. I wrote a piece on it last week for the Cubs' Stats Sunday broadcast (http://tinyurl.com/kz5llh2).

Starlin has listened, and tried. His Pitches per Plate Appearance average is indeed up, from 3.46 in 2012 to 3.89 in 2013. But the usual benefits of a jump like that haven't materialized.

Castro's walk rate has actually gone down significantly, from 5.2 to 3.8 percent. His strikeout rate has jumped from 14.5 to 19.5 percent.

Len Kasper put it well in our weekly radio conversation this week. Starlin suffers from some "two-strike anxiety."

That means he becomes even more of a free swinger in disadvantageous counts. With two strikes, Starlin is hitting a woeful .181 with a .186 OBP.

Ahead in the count, he's a .289 hitter with a .379 OBP. When he's behind in the count, he's at .192/.196.

If I ran the team, I would have tried this with Castro, too. But it has not yielded results, nor has he responded to it well personally.

He has said so directly several times in recent weeks. He needs to go back to being himself. I like Dale Sveum batting him leadoff. Tell him to forget everything, and try to recapture his comfort at the plate.

Maybe he won't ever turn into Hanley Ramirez. Maybe he can get back on track and turn into, say, Michael Young.

That's not a cornerstone. But it's useful.

And it's better than this.

More PED talk:

Two weeks ago in this space I was bemoaning baseball's enormous Performance Enhancing Drug problem, and our loss of belief (http://tinyurl.com/mk264ms).

Lazy cynicism has always angered me, and it is often rewarded these days.

If you care at all about the issue, please read the piece that former outfielder Gabe Kapler wrote on Baseball Prospectus (http://tinyurl.com/lf39rq3) this past week. He goes through his career, giving insight into the mind of a tempted ballplayer like no one ever has. He knew exactly when his testosterone levels were dropping, and made the difficult choice to play clean. His career suffered for it.

His conclusions offer some much-needed direction for "the conversation."

From Kapler's column: "If we talk about the topic openly enough and study the science with ferocity, rather than viewing the PED discussion as juicy gossip and tabloid fodder while wildly pointing fingers, we have a chance to see things as they are. That kind of methodical approach to the PED conversation may be the best way to leave the ugly drama of scandal in our wake and bring our focus back to the striking beauty of the game itself."

We need more like him.

A hollow apology:

And we need fewer like Ryan Braun, whose incomplete apology left a lot of questions unanswered. What injury was he rehabbing in 2011 when he supposedly used just once? Why does his name appear in the Biogenesis evidence in 2012? What about the accusations of college usage and the Miami connection?

Braun wrote that "moving forward, I want to be part of the solution and no longer part of the problem."

His lack of openness makes that impossible.

The more honestly we can frame "the conversation," the less we'll hopefully need to have it in the future.

• Matt Spiegel co-hosts "The McNeil & Spiegel Show" 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday-Friday on WSCR 670-AM. Follow him on Twitter @mattspiegel670

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