CINCINNATI -- Although Starlin Castro has three straight hitless games after going 0-for-4 in Monday's 2-0 win against the Reds, manager Dale Sveum has been pleased with the shortstop's approach since being inserted into the leadoff spot on Aug. 21.
Castro's numbers in the 17 games before the series opener in Cincinnati weren't necessarily eye-opening. He hit .243 (18-for-74) in that stretch to go with two homers and seven RBIs. He also drew five walks while striking out 10 times.
"That was probably as good as he swung the bat all year long in a 10-day, two-week period," Sveum said. "He actually hit into some bad luck, too. I thought he had one or two more home runs if the wind wasn't blowing in. Lined a couple balls in some big situations right at people."
The day before Castro made the first of 18 straight starts batting leadoff, he hit eighth -- the lowest he had been in the order for a game he started all season. Whether or not Castro used that as motivation, Sveum wasn't sure. However, he said some players tend to perform better in certain spots in the lineup, and batting leadoff could provide Castro with a spark as he tries to finish his worst Major League season offensively on a strong note.
"He's not the prototypical on-base guy or anything like that, but right now, if we get him going in a spot that he's obviously flourished in before, it's a way to maybe get him going," Sveum said. "Like I've said before, nobody has a crystal ball for why people hit better in certain spots. Realistically, you just have an at-bat, it doesn't matter. But some people do hit better in different spots. That's the way it is."
After first start, Baker ready to go again
CINCINNATI -- One day after making his first Major League appearance in more than two years, Scott Baker experienced the typical soreness that comes along with being a starting pitcher. And with no other issues to report, Cubs manager Dale Sveum has a little bit better idea of what the immediate future holds for Baker.
"He's definitely going to start again," Sveum said. "We were kind of just recently figuring it out, and tomorrow we'll probably have a better idea. But he'll definitely start in probably the next five, six days."
As of Monday, the Cubs had their upcoming probable pitchers listed through the end of the series in Cincinnati, and it's likely Chris Rusin and Jake Arrieta will make their scheduled starts in Pittsburgh on Thursday and Friday. That leaves Saturday's game against the Pirates open as a potential second start for Baker, especially after Sveum said on Sunday that the Cubs could go with a six-man rotation.
In his first big league start since undergoing Tommy John surgery on April 17, 2012, Baker held the Brewers scoreless and allowed just two hits and a walk in five innings with one strikeout. Working on a 75-pitch limit, Baker used only 55 pitches -- 39 for strikes -- before his day was done with his spot in the order due up in the fifth.
"He did a great job," Sveum said. "Obviously pitched efficient, too. He didn't throw that many pitches. It all worked out really well."
Beyond Baker's role with the team this season, what the Cubs decided to do with the 31-year-old right-hander in the offseason is an even bigger question. Before the 2013 season, Baker inked a one-year deal with the Cubs worth $5.5 million, making him a free agent after this season.
"Those decisions are obviously up to [executive vice president and general manager Jed Hoyer] and [president of baseball operations Theo Epstein]," Sveum said. "We've evaluated some more, things that went well. When you go to the winter, obviously starting pitching is always a priority and depth and everything like that. We'll just have to wait and see what happens."
• Recently acquired right-hander Daniel Bard might not pitch this season for the Cubs as he works his way back from a strained abdominal muscle, but he said on Monday he would be open to playing winter ball to help regain his consistency.
"I'm at full strength now," Bard said. "It's just a matter of getting the reps and getting that feel back."
Jeremy Warnemuende is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.