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Hernandez comes up big under pressure

Reliever fans side with bases loaded to bail out brilliant Castillo
@m_sheldon
April 26, 2019

CINCINNATI -- Heavy rain was imminent Thursday night, and Reds starting pitcher Luis Castillo just needed to get through the top of the seventh inning to keep a shutout alive. Very quickly, however, it wasn’t just a shutout that was in jeopardy for Castillo and the Reds, but the game

CINCINNATI -- Heavy rain was imminent Thursday night, and Reds starting pitcher Luis Castillo just needed to get through the top of the seventh inning to keep a shutout alive. Very quickly, however, it wasn’t just a shutout that was in jeopardy for Castillo and the Reds, but the game itself that was poised to slip away against the Braves.

Having retired nine in a row heading into the seventh, Castillo gave up three straight singles to bring the go-ahead run to the plate with no outs. It took reliever David Hernandez to weather that storm before Mother Nature’s version was delivered. Hernandez struck out the side in order to bail out Castillo. Following a two-hour, 42-minute rain delay, Cincinnati was able to hang on for a 4-2 win over Atlanta to take two of three games in the series at Great American Ball Park.

“With Hernandez, I think he’s the one who won this game. That was a big inning,” Castillo said via interpreter Julio Morillo. “I don’t even know what to say about him. It’s so great when this stuff happens. He picked me up. He’s done it today. He’s done it in the past and I know he will continue to do it.”

How did Hernandez slam the door shut? With a precarious 3-0 Reds lead to protect, he kept it simple with a two-pitch combo of fastballs and sliders and threw strikes to Braves hitters.

“There’s definitely no room for error,” Hernandez said. “I just came into the game thinking, ‘Just don’t walk anybody.’ Nobody likes walking in a run.”

Of Hernandez’s 13 pitches, only two were called balls.

“It’s kind of the mindset when you come into the game. You have no open bases,” Hernandez said. “First and foremost, you’ve got to get ahead. Getting ahead means you can expand the zone a little bit. I was able to do that.”

Actually, Hernandez started in a 1-0 count to his first batter, Dansby Swanson, with a high slider. Next was a fastball down for a called first strike followed by two more sliders that were fouled off. The put-away pitch was a 94-mph fastball, high and inside, that Swanson fanned at for strike three.

Next came Ender Inciarte, who opened by missing a fastball over the middle of the plate, fouling it off. Then he whiffed on back-to-back elevated fastballs and was out in three pitches.

"His stuff was electric tonight,” Braves catcher Brian McCann said. “I was on second base for those pitches. That four-seamer has good carry on it. He was throwing it at the top of the zone and didn’t miss. He made his pitches when he had to."

The Braves then turned to pinch-hitter Ozzie Albies. Again, a first-pitch Hernandez slider missed low for ball one. He would not miss again, returning to the upper portion of the strike zone. First came a slider for a called strike one before Albies whiffed on a 93-mph fastball for strike two. Albies fouled off a 95-mph fastball before watching an 86-mph slider.

Strike three.

Castillo’s winning line was preserved with six-plus scoreless innings while he allowed eight hits with no walks and two strikeouts to improve to 3-1 with a Major League-best 1.23 ERA in six starts.

“I thanked him,” Castillo said. “It was a tough situation. Bases loaded and no outs and to come and pitch the way that he did, it was just amazing.”

Hernandez has not allowed a run in seven straight appearances over seven innings with nine strikeouts. He has a 2.53 ERA in 12 games this season.

“That was fun to watch,” Reds manager David Bell said. “It looked like he was having fun doing it. He came up big, and stepped up and just made pitches. He was aggressive, attacked them. He did his job, but he did it in a way that really was the key to the game.”

If this had been a movie, it would have been a perfect time to roll the end credits after a Reds victory with Hernandez getting a save. Just after Albies was called out for strike three, the skies opened and the grounds crew brought out the tarp.

It poured and poured, but the game was able to resume at 11:30 p.m. ET with only a smattering of fans from the announced attendance of 14,792 fans remaining.

Following the lengthy delay, the game almost got away a second time. Lefty Zach Duke gave up a soft infield hit to Josh Donaldson in the eighth before Freddie Freeman pummeled a first pitch from Duke for a two-run homer to center field. Raisel Iglesias recorded the final five outs for his sixth save.

None of that drama took away from the pitcher of the night, Hernandez.

“That’s what we pride ourselves on, coming in and stranding runners,” Hernandez said. “That’s what makes me real happy -- it’s seeing them happy about that. You just come in the game, bases loaded and no outs, nobody wants to be in that situation. You just have to make pitches.”

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.