By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — Luis Castillo knows baseball history and that’s why a 2-and-7 start to his major league career doesn’t leave him sobbing in a corner.
“That’s exactly the way Pedro Martinez started his major-league career, 2-and-7,” Castillo said with a broad grin, referring to the fellow Dominican and Hall of Fame pitcher.
The nickname on the back of Castillo’s shirt reads ‘La Piedra,’ which is Spanish for ‘The Stone.’
And the 24-year-old right hander pitches with a heart of stone, as the Pittsburgh Pirates discovered Saturday night in Great American Ball Park.
Castillo pitched seven gorgeous innings and gave up one run, three hits, walked one and struck out nine. But he needed 106 pitches to cover those seven innings.
Unfortunately for him and his Cincinnati Reds teammate, he made one slip-up. It was his first pitch of the fifth inning and it was to opposing pitcher Gerrit Cole. He whacked it over the left field wall, his first home run this season and third career home run.
And that was it. Pittsburgh 1, Cincinnati 0.
Castillo received zero support from the usually potent Reds offense.
Other than Cole’s home run, the Pirates had a pair of back-to-back hits in the fourth inning and that’s it.
“That kid is a stud,” said manager Bryan Price. “He has everything, especially the makeup. Did you see what his fastball did after the home run? It was 98 and 99.”
After the home run he bowed his back and quickly struck out Starling Marte and Josh Harrison.
But the home run?
“It was my mental mistake,” he said. “It was the pitcher and I just tried to throw the fastball down the middle of the plate and he took advantage of it.”
As happy as Cole was with his home run, his pitching made him smile wider. And it came against a team that he was 0-and-6 against for his career in nine starts with a 5.14 earned run average.
He held the Reds scoreless for his seven innings — five hits, no walks, six strikeouts and only one Reds runner discovered third base.
But the point of emphasis for the Reds was Castillo.
“It was a sensational game with the caveat that we didn’t win it,” said Price. “Cole was excellent. We have some guys with some excellent numbers against him and there were some fairly uncomfortable at bats. He has put-away stuff with his fastball and two breaking balls.”
Castillo, though, was even better, despite getting tagged with the undeserved loss.
“Luis was up for the challenge, going against an established big league starter, a legitimate ace,” said Price. “He didn’t just hold his own, he limited them to one run and gave us another opportunity to win. It’s a shame he is 2-and-7 the way he has thrown the ball, but it certainly is a sign of good things to come.
“He has been our hard luck guy but he has given us a chance to win nearly every game,” said Price. “It builds confidence and faith from the players out there behind him.”
Now they need to help him out more. Castillo, though, is wise beyond his years and doesn’t seem fazed by his misfortunes.
“Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but tonight I felt really good,” said Castillo. “I’m not frustrated at all. I go out there and I know I do my job. I know I’m going to win a lot of games.
“My pitches were really good. My main focus is just trying to get experience,” he added.
Other than the home run, the only Pirates to get hits came with two outs in the fourth, a double by Josh Bell and a single by David Freese. But Bell trailed to score from second and Adam Duvall, as he does so often, wiped him out at the plate. It was Duvall’s 13th assist, the most by any outfielder in the majors this year.
With the score just 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth, there was a glimmer of hope for the Reds because the best part of the batting order was in play to face Pittsburgh closer Felipe Rivero.
Rivero proceeded to strike out the side, including Joey Votto for the second out. Rivero, 15 for 16 in saves, has retired 41 straight left handed batters.
The Reds produced back-to-back two-out singles in the fifth against Cole by Scott Schebler (two of the Reds five hits) and Tucker Barnhart, but Castillo grounded to second.
Jose Pereza beat a one-out infield single in the fifth and stole second, but Votto (0 for 4) took a called third strike and Duvall grounded to third.
The Reds only other on-base chance to score without a home run came ipn the third when Schebler led the inning with a single. After Barnhart flied to left, Castillo bunted Schebler to second but Billy Hamilton (0 for 4) flied to left. Hamilton tried to bunt during two at bats. He amazingly tried it in the first inning on a 3-and-2 and fouled it for a strikeout. He tried again in the sixth and popped it high to the pitcher.