Steady Santillan picks up 1st MLB victory

Right-hander 'really attacked and competed' as Reds open homestand with win

June 25th, 2021

walked off the mound after the top of the sixth inning, having just induced a groundout from Atlanta catcher Kevan Smith to escape a two-on, two-out jam.

That grounder came on Santillan’s 104th pitch of the game, and though his night coming to an end wasn’t a sure thing, the crowd at Great American Ball Park rewarded him with a standing ovation. With over 23,000 fans showing him love, Santillan could’ve spent time soaking in the emotions -- but really, it felt like just another day at the park for the 24-year-old.

“To be honest, nothing was going through my mind. Nothing, just get in the dugout, sit down, have me a water and I’ll be good,” Santillan said with a laugh. “Nothing crazy, you know. I was just very empty. Happy I got the job done, got that last guy out, and then once I did, I did my job, and I was going to sit down and see [where] we were going after that.”

It took a couple of outings for Santillan to figure out the big league game, but against the Braves on Thursday, he put together the best outing of his young career in the Reds’ 5-3 win.

Santillan struck out a career-high eight batters, allowed just three hits and three walks and picked up his first win as he pitched through six innings for the first time. Adding onto his night of firsts, Santillan’s first big league hit came when he roped a leadoff double down the left-field line in the third inning, and he then scored his first big league run on Joey Votto’s infield single that gave Cincinnati a lead it never yielded.

“He was very happy. He should be,” Reds manager David Bell said. “Not only a win, but I thought he pitched really well, really attacked and competed. He did what he does very well. Had a nice breaking ball, got his first Major League hit -- just a big night. I'm sure [it’s] one he'll remember forever.”

Things didn’t start great for Santillan, who gave up a solo shot to Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman in the top of the first. It nearly ended in worse fashion, when he issued a walk and hit a batter back to back with two outs in the sixth.

Rather than Bell coming out of the dugout to take the ball from Santillan, it was pitching coach Derek Johnson who walked to the mound, talked him through the situation and allowed him to go after the next batter. With his manager’s trust in hand, Santillan threw a 1-2 slider that turned into an easy forceout to end his night on a high note.

“I definitely wanted to see him get through the inning. You could tell early on that he was pitching with confidence, he had the stuff,” Bell said. “He had pitches left, he'd done a nice job, [and] he'd shown the ability to get everyone in the lineup out. He made it pretty easy to stay with him there.”

“Every time I get a chance to go out there and finish a clean inning and come out on my terms, I will always be happy for that,” Santillan said. “There is no better feeling than finishing your outing clean and not having someone to come in and pick you up. It was a good feeling -- a great feeling.”

It was telling that Santillan went with the slider to record his final out, because it was the slider that continuously helped him cruise through Atlanta’s lineup. Of the 104 pitches he threw, 48 of them were sliders, and he recorded a 68.4 percent whiff rate and produced seven of his eight punchouts with the pitch.

The ovation was well deserved after a tremendous effort from Santillan, one that became even more necessary after the Reds’ bullpen lost another high-leverage arm, Lucas Sims, to the injured list earlier in the day.

Nick Castellanos’ two-run homer in the seventh meant a two-run eighth for the Braves didn’t force Santillan into a no-decision, but it was Santillan’s impressive outing that gave the Reds a shot.

“He pitches tough, he pounds the zone, he doesn't shy away when he gets runners on base,” Castellanos said postgame on the Bally Sports Ohio broadcast. “He has all the intangibles that you want as a starter that's going to take the ball, so hats off to him. He deserves all the satisfaction that he feels right now with his performance.”