McCoy: Castillo bounces back, offense does the rest for Reds

Reds infielders celebrate after a victory against the Pirates on Wednesday, April 7, 2021, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. David Jablonski/Staff
Reds infielders celebrate after a victory against the Pirates on Wednesday, April 7, 2021, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. David Jablonski/Staff

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

By the time the Cincinnati Reds finished batting in the bottom of the first inning Wednesday afternoon, the Pittsburgh Pirates could have packed their gear and their bags and skipped right on out of town.

This one was over.

ExploreReds continue historic start

That’s because the run-happy Reds scored five times in the first inning and Reds starter Luis Castillo was at his stingiest best.

Given that 5-0 lead, Castillo slapped a muzzle on the Pirates for seven innings — no runs, four harmless hits, one walk and five strikeouts. He threw only 81 pitches, 61 for strikes.

When the afternoon ended, the Pirates were in the deep shadow of an 11-4 tub-thumper.

It was quite the contrast to Castillo’s Opening Day appearance when he gave up six runs in the first inning to the St. Louis Cardinals en route to an 11-6 loss.

It was, of course, a much happier Castillo after Wednesday’s game, a much better game to dissect than the Opening Day debacle.

“It feels phenomenal, feels phenomenal sitting here,” he said. “We were able to throw seven innings without any runs, giving up four hits. We didn’t strike out as many as we wanted to (five), but we’ll take it and it was a good performance today.”

ExplorePHOTOS: Reds sweep Pirates

And being blessed with five runs in the first inning is, well, a blessing.

“It’s incredible, just incredible to see these guys hit,” said Castillo. “This team is amazing to watch. It feels a lot more relaxing knowing that the team is going to give you a couple of runs in the first inning.

“But that doesn’t mean you can let up,” he added. “You’re still going to have to keep battling and maintain that lead. I kept that same mentality.”

Since the Opening Day defeat, it has been pure bludgeonry for the Reds while winning five straight. Over those six games, they’ve scored 57 runs, eclipsing the 51-run start over the first six games by the 1976 Reds.

Once again, for the second straight game, Tyler Naquin opened the game with a home run, a first-pitch rip to left field.

The Reds got only one more hit in the first inning, but scored four more runs on an error, three walks (one with the bases loaded to Nick Senzel), Jonathan India’s sacrifice fly and a two-run single by Kyle Farmer.

From there, the Reds kept piling on to complete a three-game sweep during which they outscored the dismal Pirates, 29-8.

In addition to Naquin’s game-opening home run, his fourth, Nick Castellanos homered for the fourth time. And Tyler Stephenson and Aristides Aquino back-to-back in the eighth inning.

While the Reds have sprinkled more singles, doubles and a few triples into their offensive plans, they lead the majors with 14 home runs.

The day’s only glitch surfaced in the ninth when Amir Garrett walked to the mound with an 11-0 lead. He quickly loaded the bases with no outs and gave up a grand slam home run to Eric Gonzalez.

The Reds, though, have q motto: “Good Vibes Only,” and India wears a red T-shirt with that slogan on it.

After his three RBI, he has 10 for the season, tying him for third place for most runs batted in during a player’s first six games of his career. And he has produced a hit in nine of his 10 at bats with runners in scoring position.

“That’s a big part of this game,” said the rookie third baseman with a league-leading hair length. “If you want to be in the lineup every day, you have to produce for your team. That’s the bottom line, how you win ball games.

“I make it a point to lock it in, do anything in my power to get a run across,” he added.

And it does seem to him that nearly every time he digs into the batter’s box, he looks up and see the bases populated with teammates, poised to score.

“Look at our team, man. They can hit,” he said. “From top to bottom, even our pitchers. I know I’m getting up with runners on nearly every inning, and it’s the best feeling ever, when you see runners on.”

Naquin is a fill-in guy, playing only because of an illness to Jesse Winker. Naquin has four home runs and 13 RBI. And that poses an upcoming problem.

Winker is ready to play when the Reds open a road trip in Arizona Friday night. So how do you bench Naquin?

“Yeah, uh, yeah … we can’t wait to get Winker back,” said Bell. “We’ll figure that out. It is a good problem to have when guys are playing well. Guys understand that we’ll figure it out and we’re going to need everyone.”

Bell was full of credit for Naquin and what he did during spring training to better himself.

“He is just in a good place right now,” said Bell. “There was a point in spring training when he was trying to make the team, yet he knew he had to make an adjustment to his swing. He knew he was risking about how that might affect him making the team.

“He knew in the long run he was going to be a better hitter and in a better spot if he made the adjustment. He trusted himself and that’s paying off now,” said Bell.

The payoff, so far, is for Naquin and the Reds.

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