On birthday, Castro takes another step

MESA, Ariz. – Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro celebrated his 24th birthday Monday by playing shortstop for the first time since injuring his right hamstring sliding into second base earlier this month. He participated in his second consecutive minor league game with the Cubs down to one week before the regular season opens.

“I feel pretty good,” he said Monday afternoon. “I’m real close.”

Manager Rick Renteria said Castro will take batting practice Tuesday, then run through some defensive drills simulating game action. After that, it could be time for him to return to a big league exhibition contest before camp breaks Saturday.

“We’re going to push him,” Renteria stated. “He’s going to be very active [Tuesday]. Then we’ll see where we’re at after that.”

Castro indicated that he ran full speed on Monday, testing himself after getting a hit and rounding first base.

“I’m running hard, turning and I don’t feel anything,” he said.

Castro will spend his birthday with his son, who turns 1 on Friday, and said he hopes not to be out of the lineup very much going forward. But the Cubs might need to play it cautiously, especially with the cold weather of the regular season approaching. Loosening muscles can be more difficult than in the warmth of Arizona.

“I have to stay in my rhythm,” Castro said. “I’m really close. ... It’s not the same intensity over there [minor league game] than in the big leagues.”

Castro has said all along he’ll be ready for Opening Day, which is set for Monday in Pittsburgh.

“That’s what I feel,” Castro said. “I feel I can be over there. I have six days.”

At that point, we’ll finally be able to see if a poor 2013 was an aberration or a trend for the Cubs' former All-Star. Unfortunately, missing almost all of spring training doesn’t put him in the best position to succeed right away. His manager will be hands-on with him.

“You don’t stop teaching at the major league level,” Renteria said. “I just happen to be the new guy on the block right now. Anything that needs to be addressed or worked on, it’s just going to be the beginning.”

Castro looked good early in camp -- he arrived in the best shape of his career -- and had two hits in the Cubs' first Cactus League game. Then came his attempted steal of second and an injury that’s lingered much longer than the initial seven-to-10-day prognosis.

So which Castro are we going to get starting next week? It remains to be seen.