Cincinnati Reds: Righty Castillo ready for second season in Cincinnati

Reds pitcher Luis Castillo leaves the field after batting practice on Opening Day on Friday, March 30, 2018, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. David Jablonski/Staff

The Cincinnati Reds will only go as far in 2018 as their starting pitching carries them. That’s true every season, of course

It was the big question mark on Opening Day in 2017, and the starters turned in one of the worst collective performances in franchise history — at least through the All-Star break — and it remained the big question Friday as the Reds opened the season against the Washington Nationals.

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In the first series of the season, the Nationals will throw three pitchers who combined to win 46 games last season: Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez. The Reds counter with Homer Bailey, Luis Castillo and Sal Romano, who totalled 14 victories last season.

Bailey got the ball in the opener, and Castillo, the biggest bright spot on the pitching staff last season as a rookie, will start Saturday.

“I feel really happy and thank the Reds for giving me this opportunity,” said Castillo said through the team’s interpreter, Julio Morillo. “That means they trust me and trust the pitcher I am, and hopefully things go well for me.”

Castillo made his big-league debut against the Nationals in a relief appearance on June 23 last season. He finished his rookie season with a 3-7 record and a 3.12 ERA.

Catcher Tucker Barnhart looks forward to seeing what Castillo can do in his second season.

“It’s awesome,” Barnhart said. “He’s mature beyond his experience level for sure. We saw that last year when he would get himself into trouble and then be able to calm himself down and be able to attack the next hitter so it’s fun for me to watch. Fun for me to catch. It’s like playing a video game. He’s got that good of stuff. It makes my job easier.”

Tough start: The Reds open the season against two division winners. The Nationals finished 97-65 last season and won the National League East. The Reds then play the Chicago Cubs on Monday and Tuesday in Cincinnati. The Cubs were 92-70 last season and won the Central Division.

“You have teams coming off really good years and certainly their expectations are really high, but it also gives us the opportunity to face really good competition out of the gate,” Reds manager Bryan Price said. “I don’t want to say it’s a great thing because you want to get off to a good start, but there’s nobody here saying they’re going to run through us. It’s a good test for us. I like our lineup. I like our young pitching. I think we’re going to be OK.”

Votto honored: Reds first baseman Joey Votto was named the winner of this year's Lou Gehrig Memorial Award, sponsored by the Phi Delta Theta International Fraternity, of Oxford, Ohio. The fraternity honors the big-league player who "best exemplifies the giving character of Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig, a member of the fraternity's Columbia University chapter."

Danny Graves was the last Red to win the award in 2002. Pete Rose (1969), Johnny Bench (1975) and Barry Larkin (1994) have also won the honor.

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