PITTSBURGH -- Luis Castillo made his 15th start of 2018 for the Reds on Saturday vs. the Pirates, the exact number of starts he had last season during an often-dazzling rookie year. Through this campaign, though, Castillo has shown decreased velocity, and the contact he's allowed has been much harder.Add
PITTSBURGH -- Luis Castillo made his 15th start of 2018 for the Reds on Saturday vs. the Pirates, the exact number of starts he had last season during an often-dazzling rookie year. Through this campaign, though, Castillo has shown decreased velocity, and the contact he's allowed has been much harder.
Add it up and Castillo is the National League leader in home runs allowed. He gave up two more long balls and lasted five innings in the Reds' 6-2 loss to Pittsburgh at PNC Park. After a four-start stretch from May 8-24 where he was 3-0 with a 2.78 ERA, the 25-year-old right-hander is 0-4 with a 6.97 ERA in his last four starts.
"It's surprising, because I'm trying to do my best," Castillo said via translator Julio Morillo about his homer rate. "Every time I go out there, I give up like one or two homers. I really don't know what's happening right now. I'm just going to keep working in the bullpen and try to do my best and try to help the team to win games."
Castillo gave up three earned runs and six hits with two walks and two strikeouts. After beginning the game with a leadoff single and a double that led to a RBI groundout by Starling Marte, Colin Moran reached on a one-out walk before Castillo escaped.
In the top of the second inning, Eugenio Suarez evened the game with a leadoff homer to left-center field against Pirates starter Ivan Nova. But the Pirates responded in the third inning against Castillo with a two-out homer by Moran to center field on a 3-1, 96-mph four-seam fastball. Leading off the Pirates' fourth inning, Elias Diaz slugged a 93-mph first-pitch fastball for a homer to left field.
With 17 home runs allowed, Castillo snapped a tie with teammate Homer Bailey for the NL lead. He is 4-8 with a 5.77 ERA over 78 innings pitched. In his 15 starts last season, he was 3-7 but had a 3.12 ERA and 11 homers allowed.
"He's a guy who likes to get some sink on his fastball and it must be flattening and not getting any sink," Reds interim manager Jim Riggleman said. "It's just running out to the center of the plate. Major League hitters are going to make you pay for that. Luis continues to do a good job. He's battling. He's growing as a pitcher. He gave up three and that still gives us a chance. We just didn't do anything offensively to allow him to stay in there."
In 2017, according to Statcast™, Castillo's four-seam fastball averaged 97.4 mph and often hit 100. This season, the pitch averaged 95.4 mph entering the game. Opposing hitters that barreled the ball on 3.5 percent of swings are doing it 10.8 percent of the time now.
Castillo unveiled a two-seam fastball with success in the midst of the season last year. This year, it hasn't been effective. Entering Saturday, opponents batted .380 (second highest in the Majors) and slugged .648 against it, with five homers. The pitch has essentially been ditched -- he threw it four times on Saturday and three times in his previous start.
Statcast™ also showed that hitters are getting more lift on Castillo's overall pitches -- a 10.3-degree launch angle this year, compared to 5.4 degrees. That means fewer groundball outs and a 45.5 percent line-drive/flyball rate this year compared to 35 percent last year. Hitters are batting .559 this year on those batted balls -- third-highest among 124 pitchers with 150 batted balls.
"He threw some balls they hit hard," Riggleman said. "He's going to be a good pitcher. We don't have any question in our mind. He's going to be a good Major League pitcher."
Against Reds reliever Austin Brice in the sixth, Pittsburgh scored three runs, with Josh Harrison's two-run homer blowing the game open. The win sealed the Pirates' first series victory since May 15-16.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Clutch chances missed: The Reds weren't able to capitalize on their chances for the second straight game, going 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position and 10 left on base. That ran their two-day total in the series to 0-for-19. In the fourth inning, after Castillo reached on an error that loaded the bases with two outs, struggling Billy Hamilton hit a routine groundout to end the best threat of the day against Nova.
"We didn't situational-hit well last night or today," Riggleman said. "We got some big hits in Kansas City [in the previous two-game series win], we didn't get a lot of hits. We've just got to get it going. You go through these things. We've got a good offensive ball club. We've showed it many times. We just are in a little funk here and not getting some timely hits."
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Dixon's gift for Dad: In the losing cause while leading off the ninth, rookie Brandon Dixon took a 2-2 pitch from Michael Feliz deep to left field for his first Major League home run. According to Statcast™, the exit velocity was 106.9 mph and it traveled 404 feet.
"I'll probably send it back home to my parents. They enjoy those things," Dixon said. "It's actually my father's birthday. I'll probably send it back as a gift."
The series with the Pirates concludes with Sunday's 1:35 p.m. ET game at PNC Park. Anthony DeSclafani will make his third start of the season since coming off the disabled list with a strained left oblique. DeSclafani earned his first win since Sept. 28, 2016, with five-plus innings and three runs allowed (two earned) in last Sunday's 6-3 victory over the Cardinals. In six career starts against the Pirates, DeSclafani is 1-2 with a 3.41 ERA. Pittsburgh will start right-hander Joe Musgrove.
Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast.