January 29, 2023

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Castillo 'back at it,' gives Reds needed boost

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CINCINNATI — The Reds, in large part due to their rotation, dug themselves into a very deep hole during the season’s first month. If any starting pitcher has the flashlight and shovel to help lead them out, it’s likely ace Luis Castillo. His long-awaited season debut came on Monday vs. the Brewers.

“It felt great. We’re back at it,” Castillo said through translator Jorge Merlos.

“It was awesome,” Reds shortstop Kyle Farmer said. “I think Luis is a great competitor, but he competes in a different way where he just goes out there very loose and keeps things loose — he’s laughing at guys swinging at his pitches. It’s a breath of fresh air seeing him on the mound. I’m glad to see he’s healthy.”

Boosted by a five-run fifth inning that included Brandon Drury’s three-run home run and Farmer adding a three-run homer in the seventh, the 6-23 Reds notched back-to-back wins for the first time this season and have won three of their past four games.

Activated from the injured list, Castillo lasted 4 2/3 innings and 87 pitches, allowing three runs on three hits and three walks while striking out five. The right-hander was delayed by a right shoulder injury at the start of Spring Training in March and made three rehab starts before being declared ready.

Cincinnati’s rotation had a Major League-worst 8.54 ERA without Castillo and still has yet to produce a quality start or even complete six innings.

“Giving us a good start to the game to give us an opportunity to be in it like that — he stabilized the game and he can absolutely stabilize a rotation, we’ve seen that for a long time now,” Reds manager David Bell said. “He looked good. It’s almost like it would be his last start in Spring Training, so he got a little tired at the end, but gave us just a great start to the game.”

Opening sharp, Castillo gave up a leadoff single to Kolten Wong in the first but faced the minimum through three innings. Eight of his first nine batters saw first-pitch strikes, and he notched three strikeouts during that span, all with his potent changeup.

“The first couple innings it was really solid, perfectly to be honest,” Castillo said of his changeup. “In the fourth inning, it was a little bit off, but we were able to make adjustments to get out of that inning.”

Wong’s leadoff walk and a one-out walk by Christian Yelich on four pitches immediately haunted Castillo in the fourth. Rowdy Tellez followed by ripping a two-run double to the wall in left-center field that put the Brewers ahead, 2-1.

Omar Narváez led off the Brewers’ fifth inning by hitting a 3-2 changeup for a homer to right-center field. Castillo issued a four-pitch walk to Jace Peterson and had two outs when Willy Adames grounded a ball that Farmer booted for an error. Bell lifted Castillo for Luis Cessa, who got out of the inning before the Reds pounced on Brewers starter Brandon Woodruff in the bottom of the frame.

“I wish I didn’t make that error to allow him to finish the inning. But stuff happens, and he looked great tonight,” said Farmer, whose homer in the seventh snapped an 0-for-34 stretch that was the longest hitless streak for a Reds position player since Bobby Adams in 1954.

The Reds will need Castillo to be more like he was in the second portion of last season than how he began it. In his first 11 starts of 2021, he was 1-8 with a 7.22 ERA before orchestrating a remarkable turnaround with a 2.73 ERA over his final 22 starts.

According to Statcast, Castillo’s sinker averaged 95 mph on Monday and his four-seam fastball 94.6 mph, which was down from the 97.2 mph he averaged last season. His changeup, which was used 27 times vs. Milwaukee, averaged 85.9 mph. It got seven whiffs out of 13 swing attempts.

“You’re talking about Luis Castillo, he’s been a really good pitcher,” Narváez said. “I’ve faced him a lot. I kind of know how his pitches play. When he’s on point, he’s 98, 99 with a heavy fastball. He was good, for the most part. Being his first outing, it was good for him. We took a really good approach to him and unfortunately they got the win today.”

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