Luis Castillo finally put his strikeout mojo in play Tuesday night in Great American Ball Park, 11 strikeouts in five innings.
Unfortunately for him and the Cincinnati Reds, it was not worth a victory over the San Francisco Giants. It was a 4-2 defeat.
And it came for two reasons.
First, in one 10-minute period, around 7:30 in the still-light evening, Castillo gave up two quick singles and a three-run home run down the right field line by Alex Dickerson.
Second, former teammate Anthony DeSclafani silenced the Reds offense on one run and six hits over seven innings.
Castillo’s posture was total confidence, total concentration. In the first three innings, eight of the nine Giants who made outs were strikeout victims. Castillo’s fast ball was at 98 and 97 miles an hour and he was working with a full repertoire of two-seam fastballs, four-seam fastballs, sliders and change-ups.
And he was euphoric afterward, even though his record toppled to 1- 6 and his earned run average grew from 7.11 to 7.44.
“Even though we didn’t get the victory, I’d say we didn’t just take one step forward, we took three steps forward,” he said. “It felt better and the results were there.”
Castillo, always a strikeout pitcher, hadn’t been producing strikeouts until his 11 Tuesday.
“The biggest difference tonight was my change-up, my second-best pitch,” he said. “In my previous starts you could see that my change-up was staying over the plate. This time it was away from the zone, down in the zone. It was working spectacularly today.”
The first inning has been his biggest problem. He had given up 38 runs in his first eight starts and 18 came in the first inning.
On this night he began by striking out the side in the first.
“It was definitely a relief,” he said. “We worked well with my pitches (catcher Tucker Barnhart) and things went well in that first inning.”
And he was protecting a 1-0 lead. Jesse Winker opened the bottom of the first with a home run on DeSclafani’s 0-and-2 pitch. It was the first time the Reds scored in the first inning in 12 games.
But the Giants opened the fourth with back-to-back singles by Brandon Crawford and Mauricio Dubon.
Dickerson came into the game on a 4 for 29 slide, but Castillo dangled a change-up and Dickerson drove it over the fence just inside the foul pole a three-run homer and a 3-1 Giants lead.
“They got to some really good pitches there,” said Castillo. “All three batters did. I’ll always have guys on base, so I really have to bear down and focus when guys are on base like that. Those guys were able to make good contact on those pitches.”
DeSclafani, though, made certain the Reds did no more damage after Winker’s home run. The Reds’ best chance was in the second when Kyle Farmer and Jonathan India opened with singles. The next three Reds, Barnhart, Alex Blandino and Castillo, all struck out,
They put two on with two outs in the fifth, but Eugenio Suarez struck out.
Other than those two mini-rallies, DeSclafani cruised and lifted his record to 4- 2 and dipped his earned run average to 2.03.
DeSclafani, who left the Reds after last season and signed with the Giants as a free agent, departed after seven innings. His lead was 4-1 after Brandon Crawford homered off Sean Doolittle in the top of the seventh.
Nick Castellanos gave relief pitcher Zack Littell a quick hello by leading the eighth inning with his 11th home run, cutting the Giants lead to 4-2.
But there would be no late game Cincinnati heroics on this night. Giants closer Jake McGee pitched s 1-2-3 ninth for his 11th save.
The hits were even, 8-8, and the Giants struck out 17 times, but two swings of the bat for home runs was the difference.
Castillo, though, was happy with what he did and said, “Even I was surprised at how well my slider was working.
“But I really do think it was because Wade Miley put this (temporary) tattoo on my left forearm before the game. That has to be one of the reasons,” he said.
Castillo didn’t know the character’s name. It was Hawkeye, a cartoon character that is deadly accurate with a bow and arrow.
“I didn’t know about him, so yeah, that’s how I felt about my pitches tonight,” he said. “I’m glad it worked out that way.”