If it seems Starlin Castro is walking a little stiff and having trouble bending over for grounders this season, you won’t be imagining things.

Manager Dale Sveum has confirmed the Cubs’ shortstop has been fitted to play with a titanium back brace for the 2012 campaign. After losing the team’s top two sluggers — Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena — left via trades and free agency, Castro has little choice but to carry the team’s offensive hopes on his back.

The brace is similar to one worn by Kirk Gibson during the 1988 season when he carried an offensively inert Dodger team to an upset of the heavily favored A’s in the World Series.

“I look at our lineup, we got some nice little hitters like [Darwin] Barney and [Tony] Campana,” said Castro. “I just think I’m basically going to have to do 90-95% of the hitting for the team this year. But I don’t want my back breaking down from carrying 2,000 pounds of guys who pop-out all the time.”

Last season Castro hit .307 with 207 hits (55 for extra bases) and stole 22 bases.

With the Cubs hoping/gambling the likes of Bryan LaHair and the oft-injured Marlon Byrd can slug for an entire season, it’s no wonder Castro’s going to wear a brace. While the device will restrict some fielding motions it has aided his hitting, providing balance to his stance and forcing him to take a more level swing with more power to all fields. It’s also bullet-proof, making it ideal for the series on the South Side against the White Sox.

Patrick O. Elia