CHICAGO -- It's late in the season and Reds pitcher Luis Castillo is close to throwing more innings than ever as a professional. This September, Castillo's right arm is showing it's more than up to the task of finishing strong.In the Reds' 2-1 victory over the Cubs at Wrigley Field
CHICAGO -- It's late in the season and Reds pitcher Luis Castillo is close to throwing more innings than ever as a professional. This September, Castillo's right arm is showing it's more than up to the task of finishing strong.
In the Reds' 2-1 victory over the Cubs at Wrigley Field on Sunday, Castillo delivered 6 2/3 innings. He allowed an earned run, four hits and four walks with two strikeouts and hit a batter. In his last four starts, Castillo is 3-1 with a 1.46 ERA, working into the seventh inning in all three wins.
"This time of the year, your arm is ready to go," Castillo said via interpreter Julio Morillo. "It's stronger and that's my job. My job is to go deep into the game and give relievers less work. That was my focus today, trying to go deep in the game."
Despite the loss, the first-place Cubs remained 2 1/2 games up in the National League Central (with 13 left to play).
For Castillo, his recent hot streak began Sept. 1, when he notched a career-high 11 strikeouts vs. the Cardinals. He tallied nine strikeouts in his last start on Tuesday vs. the Dodgers -- both for victories. Against the Cubs, his strikeout total was lower, but that also meant a lower pitch count.
The 25-year-old right-hander had 73 pitches through five innings, 81 after the sixth and 98 overall.
"I wasn't focused on 100 percent on striking everyone out," Castillo said. "They have a really good team of hitters. They put the ball in play with a lot of contact hitters. The nice thing for me was I was trying to pitch down in the zone and get deeper in the game."
Castillo varied his pitch selection, but his changeup again proved to be the most effective offering. According to Statcast™, he threw the off-speed pitch 26 times and the average exit velocity on contact from Chicago was 85.1 mph.
"When he gets going, it's just tough," Reds right fielder Scott Schebler said. "He's extremely tough when that changeup is going. I think he was almost sitting 97-98 [mph] today. It's really tough to hit a guy like that, and then the shadows creep in there and it makes it even harder. You try to give that guy a lead any way and any time you can."
Schebler did just that, on the very first pitch of the game. Against Cubs lefty Jose Quintana, he launched a homer to straightaway center for the quick lead.
It was Schebler's 17th homer of 2018, his second as a leadoff hitter. Starting off the fourth, Ervin slugged a 3-2 Quintana pitch to the left-field bleachers to give Castillo a 2-0 lead.
In the bottom of the fifth after a one-out to Addison Russell, pinch-hitter Willson Contreras lifted a long drive to right-center field and the Reds caught a break. Thinking he had a home run, Contreras strolled leisurely out of the batter's box. But the ball caromed off the wall and Contreras got a double. Russell, who held up at first base waiting to see if the ball would be caught, could only reach third base.
• Contreras' lack of hustle irks Cubs
Albert Almora Jr.'s sacrifice fly brought home Russell.
That accounted for the only run surrendered by Reds starting pitchers in the three-game series, totaling 17 2/3 innings. Matt Harvey pitched six scoreless innings on Friday with Cody Reed throwing five scoreless Saturday in a series in which each game was decided by one run.
"Very encouraging to see these last three starts," Reds interim manager Jim Riggleman said.
Harvey and Reed were both lifted when they could have returned for another inning, only to see the bullpen give up leads right away, but Riggleman let Castillo work into the seventh.
"He was going to have to give up the lead today before I took him out in those earlier innings. He finished up strong for us," Riggleman said.
Castillo took his one-run lead into the sixth and gave up a leadoff walk to Benjamin Zobrist, then got a quick flyout from Daniel Murphy and Victor Caratini's first-pitch double-play grounder to second base for an eight-pitch inning. In the seventh, pinch-hitter Kristopher Bryant entered with two outs and hit a single to right field. Almora added a single to center field to put the potential go-ahead run on first base before Amir Garrett worked out of the jam.
In 30 starts and 161 1/3 innings, Castillo is 10-12 with a 4.52 ERA. Last season, he combined for 169 2/3 innings at Double-A Pensacola and the big leagues. But the Reds limited his starts down the stretch and pulled him from the rotation when he reached an innings limit.
"[I was] a little bit more comfortable giving some rope to Castillo," Riggleman said. "He's been so good for us. He really has taken some steps in the right direction."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Garrett frustrates Rizzo: In the seventh after Almora's hit, Riggleman lifted Castillo for for the lefty Garrett to face left-handed hitter Anthony Rizzo. Garrett threw a 0-2 wild pitch that put both runners in scoring position, but struck out Rizzo with a 1-2 slider to preserve the lead. Rizzo, now 2-for-10 with four strikeouts vs. Garrett lifetime, was furious afterward. He threw his bat before spiking his helmet to the ground.
"I'm just trying to do my job, that's all," Garrett said. "Castillo just had a great game and I can't let those runs score. Rizzo, he is a great hitter. I just felt like I tried my best pitches at him today. It's going to continue to be some tough battles along with anybody else. With me being a lefty and him being a lefty, it's always going to be intense. Sometimes he's going to get me. Sometimes I'm going to get him. I guess we're just going to keep battling."
Although it was a strong weekend for the Reds' starting pitching, it was not as good for their run production. Cincinnati was 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position on Sunday, bringing the total to 0-for-25 in the last five games. And in a strange sidenote, the Reds are hitless in their last 39 at-bats on the road with runners in scoring position.
"It seems like baseball is becoming that a little bit, home runs or not much else," Riggleman said. "We haven't fallen into that totally, but this series we certainly did. We love the home runs, but we have to do a lot better job of driving some runs in and give [third-base coach] Billy Hatcher some action over there to wave some guys in."
HE SAID IT
"We pitched tremendous this series, and they pitched really well, too. It was kind of a pitchers' duel the whole series. We had leads in the first two and kind of lost them. Overall it was a good win today. I wish we could have gotten another one while we were here, but next time." -- Schebler
The Reds' road trip moves up Interstate 94 to Milwaukee, with a three-game series opening at Miller Park on Monday at 7:40 p.m. ET. Anthony DeSclafani will make the start against Brewers lefty Wade Miley. In an 8-1 loss to the Dodgers on Wednesday, DeSclafani lasted 4 2/3 innings and allowed six runs (five earned) with five hits, three walks and five strikeouts. He has not completed five innings in any of his last three starts.
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.