WSH@CHC: Castro opens the scoring with a single

CHICAGO -- Starlin Castro has more home runs and RBIs in 76 games this season than he totaled in 161 games last year with the Cubs. The shortstop says one of the reasons for his success is that manager Rick Renteria has inserted him into the No. 4 spot in the lineup, and left him there. It wasn't on purpose, Renteria said.

"As far as he was concerned, we were just trying to find a slot that suited him the best," Renteria said. "We have Starlin hitting fourth now and [Anthony Rizzo] has been hitting third all year long. If we can give them a sense of comfort, we'll find it. It wasn't our intent, but in that particular slot, [Castro] has found a little bit of a balance to where he can be and doesn't think about it too much."

Castro found more success hitting fourth in Thursday's 5-3 victory over the Nationals. The shorstop smacked a two-run single in the fourth inning.

Last year, Castro hit everywhere in the lineup except the No. 4 hole. But Renteria doesn't think the shortstop is best suited for that spot.

"It depends on the club on which you're at," Renteria said. "All things being equal right now, he's growing up and maybe I'm wrong. Maybe he is a No. 4 hitter. I think time will tell if he is or isn't. Right now, he's having a really good run. Is a typical four hitter much more of a power guy? Yeah. [Castro] happens to be a guy who can hit and has power. He's not a [David Ortiz] or any number of power hitters who exist in the four spot."

Castro, who had 11 home runs and 45 RBIs entering Thursday, one more in each category than he totaled last year, also is in the running to return to the All-Star Game. He ranks second among National League shortstops in batting average (.287) and hits (87).

Fans can cast their votes for starters at MLB.com -- online or on a mobile device -- using the 2014 All-Star Game MLB.com Ballot Sponsored by Experian until Thursday, July 3, at 10:59 p.m. CT. The 2014 All-Star Game will be played at Target Field on Tuesday, July 15 on FOX.

Thursday was the last day for All-Star in-stadium balloting at Wrigley Field.

Cubs put Castillo in lineup, remain cautious

WSH@CHC: Castillo extends Cubs' lead with a single

CHICAGO -- Welington Castillo was back in the Cubs' lineup Thursday after getting a one-day breather. Castillo was activated from the disabled list on Sunday, and the Cubs don't want the catcher to overdo it.

Castillo was able to contribute to the Cubs' 5-3 victory with an RBI single in the fourth inning on Thursday night.

"He's been down for a while," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said of Castillo, who was sidelined with a left rib cage strain. "He had back-to-back days [last Friday and Saturday] for the first time before he arrived with us, and then I ended up using him to pinch-hit and he caught an inning. That was one of the things I was trying to stay away from."

Castillo arrived Sunday at Wrigley Field from his rehab assignment with Triple-A Iowa, where he played back-to-back games.

"For him, it's a little like Spring Training again," Renteria said. "We have to make sure we use him wisely."

John Baker, who has been matched up with Jason Hammel, caught Edwin Jackson on Wednesday. Castillo was behind the plate Monday and Tuesday this week.

Renteria shares thoughts on Manny joining organization

Peter Gammons Joins Mad Dog on High Heat

CHICAGO -- Manny Ramirez joined the Cubs' Triple-A Iowa team in Colorado Springs on Thursday, and the next phase of his career as a player-coach was to begin.

"He was brought on to share his experience with all the players who are there," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "We'll probably follow it more to how some of the kids are responding, some of the conversations that are had, some of the aspects of how he prepares on a daily basis.

"He's always been known for being a very prepared individual and having a very methodical routine, which is something he can share with the players there," Renteria said. "From afar, we'll just watch what's going on."

The Iowa team was playing a doubleheader on Thursday to make up for a game April 27 that was postponed. Ramirez was in the lineup for the second game.

Ramirez, 42, spent nearly 20 years in the Major Leagues with the Indians, Red Sox, Dodgers, Rays and White Sox. He finished with 555 home runs, a .312 lifetime batting average, 2,574 hits, and 1,832 RBIs. A 12-time All-Star, nine-time Silver Slugger winner, his career was tarnished by a 50-game suspension for violating baseball's drug policy.

Ruggiano appreciates efforts of World Cup team

WSH@CHC: Ruggiano gives Cubs lead with two-run double

CHICAGO -- Cubs outfielder Justin Ruggiano knows what it's like to play for a U.S. team far from home, having played in Taiwan in 2007, and he was cheering loudly for the U.S. men's soccer team in its World Cup game Thursday against Germany.

Ruggiano tweeted "USA! USA! USA!" before the game, played in Brazil, which Germany won, 1-0.

"Everyone's into it," Ruggiano said of interest in the World Cup. "I can't say I'm a soccer fan, but any time Team USA is going in something that is meaningful as a sport, us being athletes can appreciate what they do out there.

"I think World Cup soccer brings a new awareness of the sport to our country," he said. "Our country is based around the NFL, baseball, basketball, and probably in that order. Just to see the passion that these international countries have for their sport is incredible, and that's a bunch of work they're doing out there. That's not an easy sport. They have to be in ridiculous shape.

"Hitting a baseball is hard, and may be the hardest thing to do in sports, but hitting a soccer ball at that velocity with your head into a goal with that accuracy, it has to be tough."

Ruggiano, who drove in two runs in Thursday's 5-3 victory, did play soccer for two, three years growing up in Texas, but then decided to focus more on baseball.

In 2007, he played for Team USA in the International Baseball Federation World Cup, and beat Cuba. He heard plenty of chants of "U-S-A."

"The unanimous chants they do in the stands, it's something you don't hear at a baseball game," he said. "They are non-stop -- you've heard the commercial, 'I believe that we will win,' and Team USA is doing it now. It's exciting to play. In Taiwan, we had really small stadiums but they were loud. When you play there and they are all in unison, it's awesome."