There were times early in his career when Luis Castillo was scheduled to pitch and opponents would rub their palms together and say, “Oh, yeah.”
That has dramatically changed this season and when Castillo is scheduled to start for the Cincinnati Reds the opposition wrings its hands and says, “Oh, no.”
That’s because since Castillo was an unpopular choice to start Opening Day he has been an Unhittable Machine. His change-up wrenches backs and avoids bats.
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On Thursday night in Great American Ball Park, Castillo served up another heaping portion of, “Oh, no,” to the Atlanta Braves, shutting them out over six-plus innings on eight scattered hits.
With help on defense and offense from Eugenio Suarez and relief help from David Hernandez, Castillo and the Reds pasted together a 4-2 victory, enabling them to take two of three from the Braves in the series while Castillo lowered his earned run average to a barely visible to the naked eye 1.23.
WHEN THE BRAVES, DOWN, 3-0, opened the seventh with two singles and a walk to load the bases with no outs, it was Bullpen Time.
David Hernandez, one of the main operatives in the second best bullpen in the National League, struck out Dansby Swanson, struck out Endy Inciarte and struck out pinch-hitter Ozzie Albies.
“I think I’ve come into games and loaded the bases myself and got out of it, but I don’t think i’ve ever come in with the bases loaded and struck out the side,” said Hernandez.
“Our goal in the bullpen is to come in and strand runners and that’s what makes me happy,” he added. “Nobody wants to be in that situation (bases loaded, no outs), but you just have to make pitches. I didn’t want to walk anybody, nobody wants to walk people in that situation, so I attacked the zone and expanded it.”
Hernandez made 13 pitches, 11 for strikes, and when he walked to the dugout, Castillo was waiting with a broad smile and an ocean of thank yous.
“There is nothing better than to come in and help your fellow teammate,” said Hernandez. “You want to preserve his start because he threw well all night. He definitely thanks me and he is one of the most appreciative guys in those situations. It means a lot when you see the happiness of a teammate when you save him runs.”
Said Castillo, “I pitched well, but my stuff wasn’t there and I battled and competed. I stayed focused. But I think Hernandez won this game. I don’t even know what to say about him other than it is so great when it happens. He picked me up. I gave a big, big thanks to Hernandez. I thank even more now because ... bases loaded, no outs, and pitch the way he did.”
After Hernandez’s escapist act came a heavy rain that delayed festivities for 2 hours and 47 minutes, with play resuming at 11:30 and the stands containing about 100 hearty fans.
Zach Duke started the eighth inning after the gully-washer of a rainstorm and gave up an infield hit to Josh Donaldson and a home run to straight-away center by Freddie Freeman, cutting Cincinnati’s margin to 3-2.
ASKED IF CASTILLO HAS become a pitcher who creates buzz when he pitches, Reds manager David Bell said, “Yeah, I think so. I do. That’s saying a lot. All of our starters have done excellent jobs, but ever since Opening Day he has created that.”
This wasn’t an easy one for Castillo. The Braves had a hit in the first, two hits in the second and two hits in the third, but didn’t score.
He was aided by three defensive emeralds by third baseman Eugenio Suarez, who interrupted three balls intended for left field and threw laser beams to first base for outs. And Suarez drove in three of the four runs.
Atlanta manager Brian Snitker, a man with a view from the other side, is pro-Suarez.
“He’s really good,” said Snitker. “I remember last year he missed however long and he still ended up being one of the league leaders in RBIs. The guy’s a really good player. Really good defensively, a force offensively. Just a solid, solid player.”
MEANWHILE, THE REDS did nothing against Atlanta starter Julio Teheran the first two innings. It was six-up and six-down and four outs were on called strike threes.
He retired the first hitter in the third before pitcher Castillo unscrewed the lid with a line drive single to left center. With two outs, Joey Votto walked and Eugenio Suarez singled off the left field wall, scoring Castillo for a 1-0 lead.
Suarez was in the middle of things again in the fifth, this time with his bat again. After a walk to Scott Schebler and a single by Jose Iglesias, Suarez disputed a called strike two, then drilled the next pitch off the left field wall, a two-run double and a 3-0 Reds lead, giving Suarez all three RBI in this one.
A 3-0 lead for Castillo is as safe as the gold bars in Fort Knox, although he had armed guard help from Hernandez in that decisive bases loaded and no outs dilemma in the seventh.
Leads, though, are not safe with Zach Duke, even against left handers, against whom he is supposed to be effective. Freddie Freeman thinks otherwise and practically sprinted to the batter’s box when he saw Duke. The home run gave Freeman six hits in eight at bats against Duke with three home runs.
The Reds retrieved one run in the eighth on two walks and Kyle Farmer’s sacrifice fly, giving closer Raisel Iglesias a two-run working margin. He gave up a leadoff single in the ninth to Dansby Swanson, then flicked aside the final three for his sixth save.
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