Castillo making September push

CHICAGO – As if he’s heard the chatter about the Chicago Cubs possibly searching for a new catcher this winter, Welington Castillo is leaving a good impression before the end of the season.

Castillo continued a hot month by getting the game-winning hit in the bottom of the 10th inning Tuesday, and the Cubs beat the St. Louis Cardinals 4-3. Eight innings earlier, Castillo had opened the scoring with his 13th home run of the season.

“It was amazing to hit the homer and walk-off base hit,” Castillo said with a smile after the game. “I’m always thinking it’s the last game of my life, the older I get.”

As the Cubs transition to a winning club, they’ve stated they want to add some experience to help their young players. By getting a veteran catcher -- such as free-agent-to-be Russell Martin of the Pittsburgh Pirates, for example -- they can kill two birds with one stone. They’ll have a new leader in the clubhouse and a veteran game-caller, a supposed weakness of Castillo's. But pitchers such as Kyle Hendricks might say "not so fast." Hendricks has a 1.96 ERA in 11 starts with Castillo behind the plate entering play Tuesday.

“He’s been on the same page with me since Day 1,” Hendricks said. “It’s made it so much easier for me to adapt at this level. I can’t thank him enough for how hard he works and how much time he puts in to know the hitters, so when I go out there I can trust him and not have to think so much about what I have to do.”

Those sentiments have been mostly reserved for veteran backup John Baker, but Castillo and Hendricks have clicked.

Like in the past year at this time, Castillo is leaving another late impression that maybe the experience he’s getting is starting to pay off. On offense, he’s mostly had a pedestrian year, but because of a hot final month, his numbers are starting to look better. His on-base percentage is up to .300, and he has 13 home runs -- tied for fourth among NL catchers. He’s hitting .314 in September with hits in all but four games he has played in. And all that is while battling some nagging injuries.

“He’s continued to grind through the season with double-digit homers and a big game-winning hit [Tuesday],” manager Rick Renteria said.

But Castillo still hasn’t shown enough consistency at the plate, and if calling a game isn’t a strength yet, the whispers for a new catcher might be legitimate. His overall batting average is just .241, and his OPS is below .700. Most of his offensive numbers range from mid-pack to bottom-third in terms of catchers in the league. But he remains one of the best at blocking pitches, and with some help from his pitching staff, he’s been throwing out more base runners lately.

Add it up, and the Cubs could do worse than Castillo as they head into the next season. It’s just the position he plays might require a more veteran presence moving forward as Chicago fields one of the younger teams in the league.