CHICAGO -- Before every game, Alfonso Soriano and Starlin Castro go to the batting cage together. It doesn't matter if it's home or road, rain or shine. The only break is if one is not playing, and Castro hasn't had many days off.
"I don't tell him what to do but I motivate him to go -- 'Let's go to the cage,'" Soriano said prior to an 8-7 loss to the Reds on Sunday. "Sometimes, he gets tired. We have a good routine. I tell him, if he's in the lineup, he has to go. He has to work with Rudy [Jaramillo, hitting coach] and work on preparation."
Whatever they're doing is paying off. Castro, who homered and singled on Sunday, finished the game leading the National League in hits with 150 in 112 games. He's passed his 2010 season total of 139 in 125 games. The shortstop has played in all but three of the Cubs' games this year.
"I'm very happy for him," Soriano said of the Cubs' 21-year-old shortstop. "It's his first full year in the league, and he may get 200 hits. It's hard for a player -- the first year, he can do good because pitchers don't know him. The second year, the pitchers in the league know him, but he's made adjustments and does what he has to do to put the ball in play, and he's leading the league in hits."
Cubs manager Mike Quade almost gave Castro a day off on Sunday but thought better of it. The shortstop has 19 games with three or more hits, most in the National League, and had 44 multihit games. He finished play on Sunday riding an eight-game hitting streak in which he was 18-for-37 (.486).
"He's gotten hot and probably has had less rest than anybody and continues to motor on," Quade said. "There's still a lot of baseball left, and we'll keep an eye on him for the rest of August and September. That's another thing you like to see is not only a guy who's good but he's grinding through the year and still playing with energy and still successful."
Byrd finds key hit with runners on base
CHICAGO -- The Cubs totaled 11 runs on Saturday against the Reds, pounding 13 hits, and they delivered in the clutch, going 5-for-16. But Marlon Byrd had a tough day, going 0-for-5 and stranding seven baserunners over four innings.
He redeemed himself on Sunday with a pair of RBI doubles in the Cubs' 8-7 loss to the Reds.
Byrd now is hitting .358 with seven doubles, one triple and two homers in his last 14 games since July 23.
"[Saturday], I left seven on in four innings and, thank goodness, everyone picked me up," Byrd said. "Today, it was nice to get a big hit. It's one of those things that you keep working. In this game, you go back and forth, and I have my good days, have my bad days. Today, it was better out there."
The Cubs' center fielder finished Sunday's game batting .217 with runners in scoring position. He now has 22 RBIs in 75 games.
"That's something he's working like heck to improve on," Cubs manager Mike Quade said. "He's getting his hits. People picked him up [Saturday].
"He got a couple huge RBIs in Pittsburgh in those same situations," Quade said. "It hasn't been what he'd like, but nobody is working harder to contribute in those situations. Yesterday was a tough day, and it surprised me because he's really had great at-bats against [Johnny] Cueto, but guys make adjustments.
"No one gets it done all the time and he's working to get better."
Byrd did miss six weeks after being hit in the face, but this was his lowest RBI total at this point in the season since 2006. There is hope. He did drive in 20 in August 2008.
Quade: Streak not lending itself to conclusions
CHICAGO -- The Cubs were waiting for a hot streak like the one that was snapped in an 8-7 loss on Sunday, which was was the longest since a seven-game stretch from Aug. 23-29, 2008.
Does that mean the Cubs don't need to make many roster changes next year?
"It's way too early for me to concern myself [with that] -- and I dodge that [question] all the time," Cubs manager Mike Quade said.
"There's plenty of reason to be excited, but you still want to put together more than a seven-game streak," he said. "You want five or six months of good baseball. I couldn't be happier with what I'm seeing now and how guys are playing."
The Cubs have not won eight in a row since winning nine consecutive games May 26-June 3, 2008.
Tyler Colvin may play first base sometime this season, after all. Colvin has been taking grounders there, and Cubs manager Mike Quade said he may insert Colvin into the lineup there before the season ends.
Colvin played first base in college but has been used primarily as an outfielder with the Cubs. He did work out at first in Spring Training.
Right now, Jeff Baker is the primary backup at first for Carlos Pena.
Tony Campana, who notched his first big league home run Friday with an inside-the-park dash, started in left field on Sunday to give Alfonso Soriano a breather.
"I'll pick my spots for him," Quade said of Campana, who went 1-for-5 against the Reds.
Soriano began the day 8-for-42 with one home run off Reds starter Bronson Arroyo.
Andrew Cashner is continuing his rehab from a strained right rotator cuff, and there is no timetable for his return.
"Obviously, we'll be careful, and he'll let us know," Quade said. "I'd like to think there's some baseball in his future this winter, for sure. If it's quicker than that, great."
Cashner made one start April 5, then was shutdown because of discomfort in his shoulder.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.