'Electric' Castillo stays hot with 7 scoreless

June 27th, 2021

CINCINNATI -- As dismal as his April and May performances were, both and the Reds felt there was plenty of season left for the starting pitcher to return to his elite form. That has happened throughout June.

In Cincinnati’s 4-1 victory over the Braves on Saturday afternoon, Castillo turned in seven scoreless innings before 34,671 fans -- the biggest crowd so far this season at Great American Ball Park.

“I feel like I’ve gotten back to where I was beforehand,” Castillo said via interpreter Jorge Merlos. “The results are showing up.”

He allowed six hits and two walks with six strikeouts while throwing 106 pitches against Atlanta. It was the latest fine outing for Castillo in June: over five starts this month, Castillo is 2-2 with a 1.71 ERA. Overall, he is 3-10 with a 5.14 ERA in 16 starts.

“He is electric,” left fielder Jesse Winker said. “Every time he touches the ball, we walk onto the field feeling we are going to win the game. It was amazing to watch him go out there, compete his [butt] off and really pitch another outstanding game. It’s been really fun to watch him, he has been outstanding.”

During his first 11 starts, Castillo pitched more than 5 1/3 innings just once -- in his second start of the season vs. the Pirates, tossing seven scoreless on April 7. Over his last five outings, he’s pitched six or more innings four times -- and completed seven innings twice.

“I’ve been working extremely hard with the pitching coach to get back there,” Castillo said of his deeper starts. “That hard work I’ve been doing these last couple weeks has been there. It’s not about how you start, it’s how you finish."

Facing the Braves, Castillo generated six whiffs with his changeup and six with his slider. His sinker and four-seam fastball both had top velocities of just under 99 mph.

“His mindset was really the key,” Reds manager David Bell said. “He was on the attack, attacking with what he’s great at. He was going right after them with a really good fastball-changeup combination, locating his fastball well, not being afraid to throw strikes with it and also making good pitches with it. It just set up his changeup.”

During a week where spin rates have dropped league wide as pitchers adjust to a crackdown on grip-enhancers, Castillo saw an increase. His changeup averaged 1,990 RPM, slightly above his season average of 1,981, while his slider average was at 2,510 RPM -- up from its season average of 2,427. His sinker spin was 2,186 RPM, up from 2,162.

“I think all of my pitches were working really well today,” Castillo said. “When you have confidence in your pitches and they’re going well, you know that you can throw them right.”

Winker gave Castillo a quick 1-0 lead with a home run to right-center field against Braves starter Ian Anderson, before exiting the game with a right hip contusion in the sixth. In the third inning, a two-out RBI double by Nick Castellanos and Joey Votto’s RBI single made it a 3-0 game. From there, Anderson retired his final 10 batters.

Castillo found some two-out trouble in the sixth inning after Guillermo Heredia hit a single and William Contreras followed with a double to right field. In a perfectly executed relay, Castellanos threw to second baseman Jonathan India, who threw home to catcher Tucker Barnhart to nab Heredia and preserve Castillo's shutout bid.

“That was a fantastic play out there, a fantastic way to end the inning,” Castillo said. “It really motivates you to do even better the next inning.”

Castillo was indeed better as he retired the side in order. In a test for a depleted bullpen that just lost Tejay Antone to the injured list again earlier in the day, in addition to Lucas Sims on Thursday, the Reds' relief corps preserved the lead.

In the eighth inning against reliever Brad Brach, the Braves ended the shutout bid with a pair of walks and Heredia’s RBI single. Pinch-hitter Tyler Stephenson promptly got the run back with a leadoff homer to center field against Edgar Santana in the bottom of the frame.

Amir Garrett gave up an infield hit but retired the rest of the side in order for his fifth save.