Castillo's adjustments show results vs. Cubs

May 2nd, 2021

CINCINNATI -- In a change from a recent trend, Reds pitcher avoided the first inning pitfall that got many of his previous starts off on the wrong foot. But Castillo was not able to keep the Cubs from pecking away at him during a 3-2 loss on Saturday at Great American Ball Park.

Cincinnati has dropped each of Castillo’s last four starts. In those games, he is 0-2 with a 5.59 ERA. Overall, he has a 6.07 ERA, as the right-hander hasn’t fully found the groove that can make him so frustrating for opposing hitters. 

“The stuff the pitching coach [Derek Johnson] and I worked on in the bullpen seemed to be clicking this time. I think definitely we've been making progress,” Castillo said via translator Jorge Merlos.

Over 5 1/3 innings, Castillo gave up three runs on eight hits with one walk and five strikeouts. In his previous start vs. the Cardinals last Sunday, he deviated from the fastball-changeup combination that often makes him successful and went heavier with sliders.

But on Saturday, Castillo returned to his bread-and-butter stuff. According to Statcast, 38 percent of his 94 pitches were changeups, 43 percent were four-seam fastballs and 12 percent were sliders.

“The pinpoint of the pitches was pretty [good] today, especially my changeup was pinpointing very well,” Castillo said. “It all just depends on what batters are doing and what's happening in the game. Fortunately, what we were working on, especially the four-seam fastball was working really, really well too.”

In between starts, Castillo made mechanical changes while working with Johnson.

“I was standing up straighter, I was picking up my leg a little bit more and I was also delivering quicker to home plate,” he said. “Those gave me better results today.”

The Reds took a 2-0 first-inning lead against Cubs starter Zach Davies when Tyler Naquin hit a leadoff double and scored on third baseman David Bote’s throwing error during Nick Castellanos’ infield single. Mike Moustakas added a sacrifice fly.

Castillo, who had a 19.80 ERA with 14 hits and three home runs allowed in his five previous first innings, looked dominant early. He retired his first six batters, with four strikeouts. But Chicago opened the top of the third inning with Nico Hoerner’s double and a Tony Wolters single to put runners on the corners. Davies dropped a perfect safety squeeze bunt to plate a run.

In the fourth inning with two outs, Castillo could not finish off the Cubs. Bote hit a double to right-center field and scored on Jason Heyward’s RBI single to tie the game. Hoerner added a single to right field, where Castellanos made a perfect throw to the plate to get Heyward trying to score from second base for the third out.

Castillo opened the sixth inning when he gave up a Javier Baez single and walked Anthony Rizzo before exiting with one out. With two outs against Sean Doolittle, Hoerner notched his third hit -- an RBI single for the go-ahead run.

“I thought early on he was really good,” Reds manager David Bell said of Castillo. “He did a fantastic job against a tough lineup to keep it right there once they scored a couple of runs. I thought early he was really good and the Cubs then did a nice job of adjusting and started to put some really good swings and were hitting the ball pretty well off him. I thought it was a really good step, especially early on, to come out strong the first couple of innings.”

Facing Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel, who notched 10 scoreless innings in April, Tyler Stephenson and pinch-hitter Tucker Barnhart opened the bottom of the ninth with back-to-back singles. Kimbrel recovered to get called third strikes on the next two batters, pinch-hitter Alex Blandino and Naquin. Castellanos grounded out to second base to end the game.