CHICAGO (CBS) — The experiment at shortstop that Cubs manager Joe Maddon implemented on Aug. 6 has worked out, for the most part, in a seamless transition from Starlin Castro to Addison Russell.
Floundering through his worst season in six years, Castro has been switched to a platoon role at second base with Chris Coghlan.
A shortstop for most of his minor- eague career, Russell is back to his natural position after being called up in April from Triple-A and moved to second base. The heavy lifting of making it work in the clubhouse was the responsibility of Maddon and his coaching staff. The rest is up to Russell, who at 21 has plenty to offer and even more to learn.
“My days are built around trying to improve my craft,” Russell said. “My goal is to just make the routine plays every time.”
The challenges are many for Russell, moving to the key defensive position on the field for a pennant-contending young team that holds the second National League wild-card spot. Maddon and his group have kept the day-to-day regiment simple and fun for the youthful squad.
“I feel like this is my natural position,” Russell said. “To me, there is really no pressure. I am just trying to do the same things I have done since I was little: play ball.”
Castro has been a pro handling the most disappointing season he has had to endure. By all accounts, he has been supportive of Russell despite his personal sadness about the situation.
“He cheers me on all the time,” Russell said. “When he plays second base, we have a lot of work to do together. I think our communication on the field has been pretty good since we both moved. We are getting there. He has been awesome about the whole thing.”
Maddon watched Russell struggle with two throws from the hole between short and third Wednesday evening in a loss against the Tigers. Part of the problem for Russell may have been that his arm atrophied from the side-arm throws he made from second base the last four months.
“That can definitely be improved,” Maddon said. “I have seen dramatic improvement with arms just by playing long toss. That may sound really simple, however, I have seen really good long toss programs strengthen arms. As he gets older and finds a routine, the more he stretches his arm out, the more it will carry.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.