CINCINNATI -- The season did not begin well for Reds starting pitcher Luis Castillo. He lost four of his first six outings, but has started to find his footing. The latest evidence of that came in a 5-4 win over Pittsburgh at Great American Ball Park that gave the Reds
CINCINNATI -- The season did not begin well for Reds starting pitcher Luis Castillo. He lost four of his first six outings, but has started to find his footing. The latest evidence of that came in a 5-4 win over Pittsburgh at Great American Ball Park that gave the Reds two of three games in the series.
Castillo pitched six innings and gave up two earned runs on four hits with two walks and five strikeouts on Thursday afternoon. Although his record stands at 4-4 with a 5.34 ERA in 11 starts overall, he is 3-0 with a 2.77 ERA over his last four starts.
"I guess the adjustment -- and working as hard as I can work," Castillo said via translator Julio Morillo. "When you have that kind of start of the season, mentally you're just prepared to go and work hard on the things you're supposed to work on."
Shortly after new pitching coach Danny Darwin took over with manager Jim Riggleman last month, he noticed Castillo had dropped his arm angle somewhat. He wasn't getting on top of pitches, causing them to be moving flat across the plate and getting hit hard.
After an extra-inning game on Wednesday night, Riggleman acknowledged before Thursday's game that his taxed bullpen would benefit greatly from a lengthy outing from Castillo, and he provided just that.
"He's getting closer," Riggleman said. "We want him to end up being a seven-inning-plus guy. He's not quite there yet, but he's really making progress at refining his whole repertoire of pitches. He's another tough challenge for hitters in the league."
Riggleman noted Castillo likely would have gone deeper into the game if his spot in the batting order had not come up with the Reds trying to add to their lead in the sixth. Instead, Joey Votto pinch-hit for him.
After a quick first inning, Castillo put himself in a two-on, no-outs jam to start the second by walking Colin Moran and issuing a base hit to Austin Meadows, but managed to escape the threat unscathed. He induced an Elias Diaz groundball to Jose Peraza for a 6-4-3 double play and got Sean Rodriguez to chase an 0-2 changeup in the dirt to strand Moran at third base.
The bulk of Castillo's run support came on one swing in the third inning when Eugenio Suarez launched a grand slam over the left field wall. Suarez's third career slam was his eighth homer of the season.
Castillo retired 12 of the next 13 batters he faced after the threat in the second inning as he located all four of his pitches.
"He was establishing inside with his fastball and throwing that slider and changeup away," Meadows said. "Pretty decent command, he started to lose it toward the end there, but yeah, he was good."
A one-out walk to Adam Frazier and a David Freese two-run homer in the sixth proved to be Castillo's most costly mistakes.
"I made a mistake and [Freese] did what he was supposed to do with a mistake," Castillo said.
The Pirates mounted a late rally in the ninth. After a Corey Dickerson single, Meadows launched a two-run shot off Amir Garrett with one out. Jared Hughes came in and thwarted the comeback by quickly recording the final two outs.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Suarez makes Nova pay: When Suarez clobbered a 2-2 curveball into the left-field seats in the third to spot the Reds a four-run lead, it made Ivan Nova pay for a couple of self-induced mistakes. Nova walked Castillo on five pitches to begin the inning and then yielded a single to Jesse Winker. Scooter Gennett's swinging bunt dribbled down the first base line and Nova fielded it cleanly, but his throw to first sailed high and wide of Freese toward foul territory. All three runners were safe and Suarez pounced on the opportunity four pitches later. He said he was able to get out in front and barrel the ball up right as it broke towards his foot.
"I feel great after that one," Suarez said. "It was a really good hit with the bases loaded. Everybody called grand slam. I feel happy after that because I helped my team win and that is the most important thing."
Winker gets first homer of '18: Winker provided a crucial insurance run with his first home run of the year in the fifth. Nova offered a knee-high fastball on the inner half and Winker sent it well over the wall in left-center. It traveled 414 feet and came off the bat at 105 mph, according to Statcast™.
"It feels good obviously," Winker said. "I am just trying to keep on going, put the barrel on the ball and produce a tough at bat. That is really it. This month of May, I have had some bad luck, but you just keep going."
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Reds first baseman Brandon Dixon recorded his first career hit on a sharply hit ball through the right side in the fourth. He followed it up with another single and a double into the right-center gap in the eighth, completing a 3-for-4 day.
HE SAID IT
"He's a beast. He is awesome. It is great having him hit behind you, that is for sure. It seems like every time I get on, he drives me in. Hopefully we can keep doing that. It has been fun to watch. He is an incredible guy on and off the field. He is a very easy guy to root for and I benefit because I get to learn a lot from a guy like that." -- Winker, on Suarez
The Reds head west for a nine-game road trip beginning with the Colorado Rockies on Friday. Sal Romano gets the ball coming off an outing in which he was tagged for seven earned runs on six hits and six walks in a loss to the Cubs. Votto will be glad to see the confines of Coors Field. In 28 career games there, he's batting .353 with six home runs and 22 RBIs. Jon Gray will get the ball for the 8:40 p.m. ET start for the Rockies. He is 4-6 with a 5.34 ERA.
** Brian Rippee ** is a reporter for MLB.com.