By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — Growing pains continue to plague the long gray line of young Cincinnati Reds pitching prospects.
Just when one steps up, like Amir Garrett, he takes a quick retreat.
Just when it looked as if Luis Castillo crossed the line into a confident and capable major league pitcher, he retreated a step or two Saturday night in Great American Ball Park.
When last seen earlier this week, Castillo held the Miami Marlins to one run over eight innings. But it wasn’t the same Saturday.
Castillo battled hard against the St. Louis Cardinals, holding his own against 275-pound Lance Lynn.
But too many walks, too many hit batsmen and a home run did him in as the Reds lost 4-1, their first loss at home this year to the Cardinals after five wins.
Castillo gave up only three hits, but he walked five, hit two and gave up a two-run home run over his 6 1/3 innings and slipped to 2-and-5 on the season.
“I didn’t have my best stuff today, but there are days like that and that’s when you have to go and compete and stay longer in the game,” he said.
And he did that pretty well.
“Mentally, I just try 100 per cent to compete,” he added. “Even though I know I don’t have my best stuff and I go out there to compete. My change-up is my best pitch and tonight I sometimes threw it one time, two times, three times in a row because unfortunately my fastball and my slider were not there today.”
Joey Votto gave Castillo a 1-0 lead in the first inning with his 27th home run and it lasted until the third. He walked Matt Carpenter and two batters later shortstop Paul DeJong homered into the left field stands for a 2-1 St. Louis lead.
“I made a mistake, tried to throw a two-seamer and left it over the plate and he hit it very good,” said Castillo.
It stayed that way until the seventh inning when with one out Castillo hit Kolten Wong in the head with a pitch. When pinch-hitter Luke Voit singled, Castillo’s night was done.
Relief pitcher Kevin Shackelford replaced Castillo and walked Matt Carpenter to fill the bases. Third baseman Eugenio Suarez made a gold star stop of a hard-hit ball by Tommy Pham, but his throw home was late and a run scored. The fourth run scored on a passed ball charged to catcher Devin Mesoraco, a play that was reviewed for 3 minutes, 42 seconds, before New York ruled that the call stood as called. Safe. 4-1 Cardinals.
Meanwhile, other than Votto’s home run the Reds were helpless against Lynn, now a 10-game winner. Over six innings they had one run and three hits.
The Reds put together their only decent threat in the ninth against Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal. Scooter Gennett drew a one-out walk and Devin Mesoraco poked a two-out single.
Jose Pereza, the potential tying run put up a scrappy nine-pitch argument before he grounded out to deep short on a full count to end it.
Of Castillo’s evening, manager Bryan Price said, “His stuff was really good, but his command was there for him as much today. He only gave up three hits total, but they had nine baserunners because of the walks and hit by pitches.
“We’re still talking about a young man who is going to be a very good major league pitcher,” Price added. “He is vulnerable to the same things that other young pitchers are vulnerable to. I’d like to see him bounce back and be a little more sharp in his next outing.”
Price and everybody else in the inner circle are supremely confident in the 24-year-old Dominican.
“It is always hard to tell with pitchers because sometimes they look like Randy Johnson or John Smoltz or Pedro Martinez. Then sometimes they look like Jamie Moyer or Tom Glavine or Gred Maddux,” said Price.
“Great pitchers don’t always look alike. The thing about Luis is his velocity and his competing in the strike zone. His changeup is outstanding, he is very athletic, he fields his position, he controls the running game. And he is getting better. His velocity is getting better on his slider from 84 to the upper 80s. And he has added a sinking two-seam fastball that gets ground balls.”
His demeanor is special, beyond his youthful years, and he displayed it Saturday when he took his team into the seventh inning down just 2-1, despite low confidence in two of his pitches.
“Anybody who watches this kid pitch would say it does not look like he is timid or intimidated by the situations. There is always anxiety. Sometimes that turns into the fear of, ‘What if I don’t perform?’ That hurts young players and he has avoided that to this point.”
Even after Saturday, even after four losses, there are no ‘what ifs’ with Castillo. It is evident he is The Real Deal.