De León takes homers 'personally,' K's 9

Righty bounces back from two 1st-inning HRs, records 1st MLB hit and RBI

April 6th, 2021

CINCINNATI -- The Reds didn't exactly plan to have both Jeff Hoffman and in their 2021 rotation. It became necessary when Sonny Gray and Michael Lorenzen opened the regular season on the injured list.

Like Hoffman on Sunday, De León made the most of his opportunity to step up on Monday vs. the Pirates. In a no-decision, he struck out nine over five-plus innings before the Reds took a 5-3 victory at Great American Ball Park. Once again, Nick Castellanos came through with a big home run that snapped a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the seventh inning to help Cincinnati win for the third time in its first four games.

"We’re going to have to pick each other up," Reds manager David Bell said. "We talked about having the starting pitching depth, and we’re fortunate to have that, but for those guys to come through, step right in and be an important part of a pitching staff that has had success, it kind of helps us keep rolling."

In his first start since 2016 with the Dodgers, De León started the evening in ominous fashion. His 2-2 changeup with one out in the first inning missed over the strike zone, and Phillip Evans crushed it for a 445-foot solo homer to left-center field. Catcher Tucker Barnhart could be seen wincing from the crouch as the ball left Evans' bat. Two batters later with two outs, Colin Moran slugged a first-pitch slider for a 374-foot homer to right field that made it a 2-0 game.

Nothing De León did after that made anybody wince -- except perhaps Pirates hitters, who notched just one more hit against him. With his sinker averaging 94 mph, De León struck out the first two batters of the second inning.

“I was able to settle in after those two solo shots. Solo shots won’t kill you," De León said. "I was just going out there with a different edge in the second inning, and I was more aggressive. I took it personally."

De León, who hadn't batted since 2019 with the Rays, got a run back himself. Running from first base, Nick Senzel beat out a fielder's-choice grounder from Jonathan India. Two batters later with two outs, De León grounded a single through the right side to score Senzel for his first big-league hit and RBI.

In the third inning, following a leadoff single by pitcher JT Brubaker and an error by shortstop Eugenio Suárez when he muffed the exchange for would-be double play, De León struck out the side -- all with sinkers either 94 or 95 mph -- including the two hitters who burned him for homers earlier, Evans and Moran.

In the fourth inning, De León retired the side in order on five pitches. By then, he was still a little tired from running the bases in the second inning.

"I had to try to calm myself down. That inning was when I felt something click," De León said. "I was taking my time on the mound between pitches, taking deep breaths. It was something that I think helped me by being a little tired that inning."

De León struck out the side again in the fifth inning, which included a two-out walk. Bell lifted the right-hander following a leadoff walk to open the top of the sixth inning.

On Sunday, Hoffman earned the 12-1 win over the Cardinals with five strong innings of one-run baseball. He was still the pitcher of record in the bottom of the fifth when Castellanos crushed a three-run homer to break up a 1-1 tie.

"Those are the kind of starts we need from him and all of our starters," said Mike Moustakas, who tied the game at 2 with a two-out solo homer to right field in the fifth inning. "Especially when we’re not scoring runs and they’re able to do that, it takes pressure off us."

Runs stopped being harder to come by once Castellanos homered in his fourth plate appearance of the evening with one out in the seventh inning. Two more runs scored in the eighth.

Against Pittsburgh lefty reliever Sam Howard, Castellanos acknowledged a nice 3-1 slider after he whiffed to run up a full count. Howard followed with a 94 mph fastball, and Castellanos was all over it with a 431-foot drive to left field that left his bat at 108.9 mph. He flipped his bat and rounded the bases, ending his day better than it started.

Earlier in the day, MLB issued Castellanos a two-game suspension for his part in a bench-clearing incident on Saturday against St. Louis. He is allowed to play pending his appeal.

"Obviously, he has been carrying us to start this season," Moustakas said. "His energy is electric."