McCoy: Red-hot Reds take opening series vs. Cardinals

Nick Castellanos leads Cincinnati offense

If the Cincinnati Reds proved anything over the first three games of the 2021 baseball season, it is that they plan to be productive, destructive and seductive.

And that 6-and-19 spring training record? So much thickly sliced bologna.

For the third straight game, the Reds produced a roster full of hits, this from a team that last season set a major-league record for lowest team batting average at .212.

On Easter Sunday, the Reds ravaged the St. Louis Cardinals, 12-1, and they didn’t put all their eggs in one basket.

They produced a pair of home runs, but not the bases-empty variety they so often hit last season. Nick Castellanos and Tyler Naquin both crashed three-run homers.

They banged four extra-base hits, four singles and took five walks. And they silenced the Cardinals with stifling pitching, particularly from Jeff Hoffman.

Starting his first game since 2019, Hoffman held the Cardinals to one run, three hits, no walks and struck out six in five concrete-hard innings.

Even though the Reds lost on Opening Day, they scored six runs and collected 10 hits in the 11-6 loss. They won Saturday, 9-6, with 11 hits. And on Sunday it was 12 runs and nine hits.

Add them up and it was 27 runs and 30 hits while taking two of three from the Cardinals, everybody’s popular pick to win the National League Central. It’s just the third Reds team to score at least 27 runs in the first three games to start a season, per Elias Sports Bureau. Only the 1895 (36 runs) and 1976 teams (33 runs) scored more.

It began Sunday as a pitcher’s day. St. Louis starter Carlos Martinez started it with three perfect innings and the Reds didn’t get the ball out of the infield. Cincinnati’s Hoffman faced 10 batters over the first three innings and the only Cardinal to find the basepath was Nolan Arenado via a two-out double in the first.

Then came ‘The Beast,’ the man the Cardinals awakened Saturday by hitting him with a 93 mph fastball. It instigated an on-the-field shoving match in which both full teams participated.

Castellanos drilled a one-out triple in the fourth and scored on Joey Votto’s single. It was a ding as far as damage goes. Castellanos would later totally wreck the Cardinals.

St. Louis tied it, 1-1, in the fifth on Tyler O’Neill’s double and Yadier Molina’s single, both with no outs.

In the fifth, Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson, making his first start, beat an infield single, one of his three hits, enabling him to score three runs. Pinch-hitter Kyle Farmer took a full-count walk.

And Castellanos unloaded his second home run of the season, a three-run rip to make it 4-1.

As the ball left the park, Hoffman leaped to the field from the top step of the dugout.

“That was unbelievable, just a big player coming through in a big spot,” said Hoffman. “That’s what guys like that do. I exactly said in the dugout to Sonny (Gray), ‘This is the guy I want up in this situation.’’

When the fifth inning was over, the Reds had their second six-run inning in two days. The inning featured two walks, a single, a sacrifice bunt and Naquin’s three-run homer.

Naquin was in the lineup only because outfielder Jesse Winker left Saturday’s game feeling ill and was given Sunday off.

Castellanos, who gave a post-game soliloquy after Saturday’s game, was more into two and three-word answers Sunday. And they still had impact.

“Hitting is contagious and we have a good vibe right now,” he said. “Reds Country feels good right now. Do the fans make me play better? Maybe. I don’t know. But I love it.”

Asked if he see more intensity from this year’s Reds edition than he saw last year, Castellanos said, “Yeah, for sure. More energy throughout the stadium. More energy in the dugout, more energy amonst us.

“It starts with love and support, right?,” he asked.

Castellanos began last season with a 10-game hitting streak before tapering off and said this season is entirely different.

“I’m not sure, I’m in a different place right now than I was last year,” he said. “It is a completely different feeling.”

Castellanos watched from right field as Hoffman mowed down the Cardinals.

“What he did was huge for everybody,” he said. “He heard the bell and he answered the door.” And slammed it on the Cardinals.

“This one definitely felt good,” said Hoffman, obtained over the winter from the Colorado Rockies for pitcher Robert Stephenson.

“I feel every day when I come to this park it’s a new beginning,” he said. “I’m really excited to be here and working with the people I’m working with. I’m extremely happy to walk through those clubhouse doors every day.”

Manager David Bell can’t help but be gleeful over what he is seeing from his highly flammable offense.

“We have a long, long way to go, but I do think the way we’re attacking, the type of at bats we’re having, the confidence that is being built. . .that is important,” he said.

“It confirms our hard work and it is nice to see the results,” he added. “Our guys worked so hard last year and the results didn’t show up. When it happens, a lot of good things can be built. It is important, even if it’s only three games.”

Three games, 2-and-1, first place and a sizzling right fielder. Life is good right now in Great American Ball Park.

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