Reds’ Castillo: ‘It’s every pitcher’s dream to be the Opening Day starter’

Five-year veteran looking forward to pitching in front of fans again

Luis Castillo will make his second Opening Day start and first since 2019, the Cincinnati Reds announced Friday.

The Reds begin the 2021 season April 1 against the St. Louis Cardinals at Great American Ball Park. Castillo will be the first Reds pitcher to take the mound on Opening Day twice in his career since Johnny Cueto, who made four straight starts from 2012-15.

When Castillo heard the news, he said, “I felt awesome. It’s Opening Day. Of course, I’m going to feel awesome. With all the work I’ve done the past couple weeks and even prior to that, it’s just amazing to be the Opening Day starter.

Castillo has made two starts in spring training and not allowed a run in five innings. In 12 starts last season, he was 4-6 with a 3.21 ERA. He pitched his best in September, posting a 2.20 ERA in five starts

“I think it’s pretty obvious what Luis has done as a pitcher,” manager David Bell said. “I can speak firsthand to what he’s done over the last two years, and really he’s in a great spot this year. I’d say he’s as ready as I’ve ever seen him. Guys take different approaches to coming into spring training. He came into spring training this year very ready to go, very focused, in great shape. His arm looks really close to being ready for the season.”

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Castillo, 28, is entering his fifth season with the Reds. Bell also praised Castillo’s leadership abilities, even though he’s a quiet guy who’s not the rah-rah type.

“He’s just a young pitcher who continues to get better and better,” Bell said, “and in so many ways, he’s just the full package. He’s a great teammate, a great person, very humble but also confident. He’s got an easy way about him, but he competes as well as any pitcher I’ve been around.”

In his first Opening Day start in 2019, Castillo allowed one run on two hits in 5 2/3 innings in a 5-3 victory against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He struck out eight.

“It’s special,” Castillo said. “It’s every pitcher’s dream to be the Opening Day starter. I’ve done it once. To do it twice is even better.”

Sonny Gray, who is battling back spasms this spring, was the Opening Day starter in 2020. He pitched in an empty stadium. The Reds did not play in front of fans throughout the 60-game season because of the pandemic. This season, new guidelines in Ohio will allow the Reds to have 30 percent capacity at Great American Ball Park. The stadium seats 42,319, so there could be a crowd of as many as 12,695 fans on April 1.

“Fans are always part of the game,” Castillo said. “They transmit some type of energy and adrenaline for us players. Of course, it’s going to be great to have them back.”

NOTES: The Reds beat the Giants 6-2 on Friday to improve to 6-12 in the Cactus League. Nick Senzel went 2-for-3 to raise his average in spring training to .357. Sean Doolittle was one of seven pitchers to throw a scoreless inning.

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