Castro a mixed bag on defense

MILWAUKEE -- Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro’s defense came up Monday as manager Dale Sveum discussed his three candidates for the Gold Glove award.

Darwin Barney, Welington Castillo and Anthony Rizzo are getting publicity for their work in the field and rightly so. In fact, ESPN’s Buster Olney has the Cubs right side of the infield winning the award. And there’s no arguing Castillo has improved behind the plate.

But there's a lot of gray area when describing Castro’s year on defense.

“Castro’s last few months have been pretty good,” Sveum said Monday before the Cubs lost to the Milwaukee Brewers, 6-1. “Making four errors in the last 70-something games.

“There’s a couple mishaps here and there. As far as the routine plays, the throwing, hate to think anyone is a more accurate thrower at this point ... It isn’t too often he throws a ball away. You don’t see that too often from shortstops. So he’s crossed that bridge.”

Actually, it was four errors in the last 72 to be exact, after making 14 in the first 74. That’s progress. But almost on cue Castro made one Monday, throwing a ball into the dugout in the third inning on a grounder by Norichika Aoki. But that came on the heels of a first inning bare-hand grab -- and throw -- on a slow grounder to get the speedy Jean Segura.

There’s the gray area. Sometimes Castro is fantastic while other times he can still be maddening on defense. But Sveum isn’t wrong. He’s improving and overcoming some bad habits.

“Getting rid of the ball when he has to now I think is a big obstacle he’s overcome,” he explained. “You don’t see him tapping the glove and taking the time, not meaning to take his time -- but that was the only way he ever fielded a ground ball.

“The ball is touching his glove and he’s getting rid of it.”

Castro has a simple explanation for his improvement: “Concentrate a little more,” he said.

So there’s the progress. And that’s the key element to focus on because overall his season in the field hasn’t been great. According to ESPN Stats and Information, he has negative eight runs saved after Monday night’s game, that’s fourth worst among shortstops. He also leads the league in errors with 19. But since late June, the numbers have gotten better as Sveum indicated. He’s “only” negative two in runs saved and he’s made five errors in that timeframe -- including the one Monday.

“I work every day at it,” Castro said.

So maybe it’s paying off after a rough start to the year. And he’s making less mental errors as well. In the past he would forget the speed of the runner, sometimes assuming he was faster than he was and rushing a throw, while other times the opposite would occur. He just wasn’t sharp.

“Now (I) pay attention who’s running before the ball is hit,” Castro said.

So here’s the point: whereas a few months ago there were questions if Castro was the long-term answer at shortstop, now the talk is simply about cleaning up his game. But the jury should still be out as half a season doesn’t lead to conclusions about anything.

“He’s made huge steps,” Sveum said. “(The mistakes) are less than they were a year ago.”

Right now, that’s all anyone can ask for.