Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro flew home to the Dominican Republic last Wednesday following the death of his cousin and three close friends in a car wreck. He is back in the Cubs’ lineup Tuesday, having been activated from the bereavement list, but will be playing with a heavy heart in the Cubs’ series-opener at Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park.
“It’s a really tough time, man,” Castro told the Chicago Sun-Times on Tuesday. “The only guy that knows [why] is God. He knows how things happen. I had to be there no matter what, to go there and take that time. But I’m happy to get back. I’m feeling bad, but I’m here and I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing.”
The 24-year-old is having a resurgent 2014 campaign, batting .284/.333/.429 with 13 home runs and 64 RBI in 125 games after batting just .245/.284/.347 with 10 home runs and 44 RBI across 162 games in 2013.
The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.
In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.
The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.
Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”
It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.
It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.