Castro experiences typical growing pains
Minor League hitting instructor points to need for adjustments
CHICAGO -- Cubs rookie Starlin Castro batted .310 in his first month in the big leagues, but he hasn't been able to duplicate those numbers in June.
Castro, 20, entered the final day of the month batting .222 in June. Dave Keller, the Cubs' roving Minor League hitting instructor, said Castro's struggles are just part of growing up in the big leagues.
"I think people who get to see him every day at this level understand that it doesn't matter who you are, whether you're the guy in Atlanta [Jason Heyward] or Ike Davis or [Stephen] Strasburg or Starlin Castro, they all came with a lot of publicity," Keller said Wednesday. "There's a lot of positive reinforcement and a lot of hype for what type of player they have a chance to be at this level.
"They'll all go through their ups and downs, they'll all go through their peaks and valleys, because there's a big learning curve that happens here," he said.
What Keller explains to prospects is that advance scouts can figure out players' weaknesses fairly quickly.
"Those guys know what they're looking for, they know what they're talking about," Keller said of the scouts. "You don't get that in the Minor Leagues."
And they don't just watch the players at the plate, but also how they run the bases, how they play defense.
"After awhile, when they get that information, it's a matter of the player learning how to adjust, too," he said.
One difference this year is that Southern League teams now play five-game series. That gives opposing teams time to figure out a hot hitter -- and the hitter needs to learn to make the adjustment.
"If you don't have the ability, you won't make the adjustment at this level," Keller said. "If you do, you'll figure it out. [Castro] is a very energetic competitor who wants to do well, and that's something that's on his side and will help him get through some of the valleys he'll go through."
Hill seeks momentum in consecutive starts
CHICAGO -- Cubs catcher Koyie Hill was back behind the plate Wednesday for the second straight game, the third time this season he has started consecutive games.
"I've said before, it's no secret I enjoy playing," Hill said. "But I also enjoy watching [Geovany Soto] play, too. He's a great talent. I even voted for him for the All-Star Game [on the players' ballots], so I have no problem caddying for him."
Did Soto vote for Hill?
"No -- he didn't want his voting rights to be revoked," Hill said, laughing.
Soto has started 54 of the Cubs' games, and Wednesday was Hill's 24th start behind the plate. The veteran had two doubles Tuesday in the Cubs' 3-1 win over the Pirates and was 8-for-18 with runners in scoring position overall. Driving in runners has been a problem this season and one of the reasons the Cubs are behind in the National League Central.
"We've got the crew here to do it," Hill said about the possibility of putting together a long winning streak. "To have the adrenaline from winning, it carries over to the next day, and it gets easier and easier.
"Coming here every day and digging down inside to find that motivation every day -- not to say that we're lacking motivation at all -- but [we need to build] on that momentum," he said. "When you don't have that, you have to muster it up, and it can be grinding."
Grabow waits for swelling in knee to lessen
CHICAGO -- Cubs reliever John Grabow, placed on the disabled list Tuesday with a sprained left knee, said he has to get some of the inflammation out of his knee before he can resume throwing.
Grabow will eventually be fitted with a brace to help take some of the stress off the knee. The first step is to get the inflammation out, then he can work on strengthening the muscles in his leg.
Can he still throw?
"I'll probably take a little while off," Grabow said Wednesday. "I've got to start crawling before I walk. Everything's still up in the air. I don't have a plan yet. Once I start feeling better, I'll start throwing."
Grabow was 1-3 with a 7.36 ERA in 28 games, and was on the disabled list from May 31 to June 16 because of the knee.
Schlitter's two-pitch strikeout an oddity
CHICAGO -- When Cubs rookie Brian Schlitter made his Major League debut Monday, he entered in the seventh inning to replace injured pitcher John Grabow with the count 2-1 against Pittsburgh's Paul Maholm.
Schlitter struck out Maholm for his first Major League strikeout and then struck out Jose Tabata to end the inning.
According to Stats Inc., since 1990 there has been only one other pitcher to record his first strikeout in his Major League debut by throwing less than three strikes. On March 31, 2003, Arizona's Oscar Villarreal entered the game midbatter against the Dodgers in the eighth after Brett Prinz hurt his groin. Villarreal threw one strike to get the strikeout -- and that was the only pitch he threw in his debut. He was lifted the next inning.
If you disregard debuts, one other pitcher since 1990 recorded his first career strikeout by throwing less than three strikes and that was Dan Miceli. His debut was Sept. 9, 1993, but his first K came in his third game on Sept. 12 against Colorado.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.