About 48 hours before the 2016 season, the Reds signed veteran pitcher Dan Straily, who had not been able to stick on a major-league roster.
Straily, then 27, won 14 games for the last-place Reds, who at the end of the season traded him to the Miami Marlins for a talented pitcher five years younger.
Luis Castillo came to the Reds in the deal and was impressive right away in spring training last year with his easy motion that delivered the ball at nearly 100 miles per hour. And he had a good change-up.
“Velocity sets him apart,” manager Bryan Price said. “We were impressed last spring, but his breaking ball was a distant third.”
A major-league starter needs three quality pitches that he can throw for strikes.
Castillo started the season with Double-A Pensacola and worked on his breaking pitch. The work earned him a mid-season promotion to the Reds, where he had a deceiving 3-7 record. The Reds were competitive in most games he pitched but many times offense was lacking or a tired bullpen surrendered a lead. His 3.12 ERA was tops among National League rookies.
From July 8 on, his ERA was 2.84, seventh-lowest among pitchers with 12 or more starts.
That strong finish prompted the Reds to say he will be in the 2018 starting rotation. So the confident Dominican arrived in Arizona with a job in hand, to keep as long as he performs.
“I have the same attitude,” Castillo said through interpreter Julio Morrillo. “I am going to keep working to help my team win.”
Price also praised Castillo’s poise on the mound, rare for a pitcher his age, thrust into a major-league season.
“There are a lot of pitchers with the stuff to be in the big leagues,” Price said. “It is rare for a young pitcher to feel like he belongs. Doubts can creep into you thoughts about how they’ll be accepted by teammates and what if they are hit hard.”
From the time Castillo stepped on the mound in Washington against the Nationals, he was comfortable.
“For me it’s the same game,” Castillo said. “When you’re in Double A you compete against the hitter like you do in the big leagues. Obviously, the hitters are a lot better but it’s the same. I do try to focus more in the big leagues because you can’t get by with the mistakes you make in Double A. Other than that it’s the same mentality. Just go out and compete.”
In his debut against Washington he gave up a home run to the second batter he faced, Brian Goodwin. He gave up another hit in the first, walked a batter in the second, and walked the bases loaded in the third. Castillo got out of both innings with double-play grounders. Anthony Rendon hit a home run in the fourth.
“He got into trouble with his command early, trying to make the perfect pitch” Price said. “He managed the environment very well for a debut and he settled in.”
Castillo worked five innings, allowing the two runs, before handing the bullpen a 5-2 lead that was squandered in a 6-5, 10-inning loss.
The 25-year-old has shown that he can field his position and hold base-runners. This spring he just wants to get stronger. He knows the challenge ahead.
“I want to be ready for 162 games,” Castillo said. “It is a lot different than a minor league season. I want to be strong and help my team win.”
It appears he plans to stay in the big leagues all year.