Castro, Barney making strides defensively

CHICAGO -- Although the Chicago Cubs' Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney have had their share of growing pains learning to play defense at second base and shortstop at the major league level, improvement is beginning to be noticeable.

Making fewer errors is just one dynamic of playing the two most challenging positions on the field. Barney, who has just one error, is in his second season of playing second base after coming up as a shortstop. Castro, with the help of infield coach Pat Listach and manager Dale Sveum, has improved his overall defense despite making eight errors in the Cubs’ first 28 games.

“They are a year smarter in knowing the league, and they are still continuing to work hard every day at improving,” said Listach who also worked with the duo last season along with former third base coach Ivan DeJesus. “Barney has made some tremendous strides at second and Castro -- even though his error totals are up -- hasn’t gotten the call or any breaks on a number of those errors. We admit Castro is a work in progress, but his defense is improving. You can’t go by errors alone. His overall play is more consistent out there.”

Sveum and Listach both worked extensively with Castro on footwork and the release point of his throws in the spring.

“For the most part it has been his throwing that has given him the most trouble,” Listach said. “His glove work has been fine, but he is a better player when he reacts and has less time to think about it. When he has time to think about it, that is when he makes mistakes, and that’s when he sits back on ground balls and gets in trouble.”

Both infielders spend a lot of time talking before games and during batting practice.

“They both are lining up in the right places more consistently,” Listach said, referring to cutoff plays and throws on steal attempts. “We worked on it last year, and they still were lining up in the wrong place. This year they are much better, but it is still a work in progress for both of them. One is 22 years old [Castro], the other is learning a new position.”

The team’s overall defense has improved since the second week of the season. The Cubs made 16 errors in their first 16 games and have only made seven in their past 12 contests.

“That’s what we want,” Listach said. “We want to play clean games. If you pitch the ball and catch it and still lose that’s a part of the process of the game,” Listach said. “If you kick the ball around and you kick the ball all over the field you are suppose to lose ball games.”

It appears the Cubs are on their way to being a better team than the one that led baseball in errors with 134 in 2011.