By HAL McCoy
With last place a virtual lock for the Cincinnati Reds, the team is playing September with two objectives: spoil the season for contender and finding out which rookies can pitch in the major and which can’t.
Both missions are on the fast track the first week of the month and the Milwaukee Brewers felt the first sting.
The Brewers came to Cincinnati on a rush — three wins in four games against the first place Washington Nationals and two wins in three games against the first place Los Angeles Dodgers.
Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell called the three-game series against the last place Reds, “A trap series.” And they got trapped, boiled and eaten.
The Reds completed a three-game sweep Wednesday afternoon in Great American Ball Park, blasting the Brewers, 7-1, their first sweep of the Brewers since May of 2013. That put a severe crimp in Milwaukee’s quest to win the National League Central or, at least, grab a wild card.
And the Brewers received a face full of the Reds future in the personage of rookie pitcher Luis Castillo.
Castillo made his final start of the season due to innings limits and gave up a home run Wednesday to the second batter he faced, Neil Walker.
He then gave up a two-out double to Travis Shaw and the Brewers were done. Castillo not only shut the door, he put three padlocks on it and an iron bar.
After Shaw’s double, Castillo retired 20 of the next 21 hitters before Orlando Arcia singled with one out in the eighth. At the time Castillo was over 100 pitches and still throwing 99 miles an hour fastballs.
For the game he pitched eight innings and gave up one run, four hits, didn’t walk anybody and struck out a career best 10.
Manager Bryan Price is on record as saying he wants to solidify his five-man rotation for 2018 before the team reports to spring training. Luis Castillo penciled in and that pencil doesn’t have an eraser.
Although his record is just 3-and-7, Castillo’s earned run average is 3.12 because the bullpen blew some saves for him and two starts ago lost a 1-0 decision to Gerrit Cole and the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Walker’s first-inning home run gave the Brewers their first and only lead of the series in games won by the Reds 5-4 (on Billy Hamilton’s walk-off home run), 9-3 and 7-1.
The Reds took command Wednesday with a five-run third inning after frittering a chance in the second. Adam Duvall singled and Eugenio Suarez doubled to put runners on third and second with no outs.
But Scott Schebler grounded to first, Jose Peraza struck out, Tucker Barnhart was walked intentionally to fill the bases and Castillo grounded to short. No runs.
The Reds exploded in the third against veteran Matt Garza for five runs. Phillip Ervin struck out to start the inning and he was batting for Billy Hamilton, who was hit on the left thumb trying to bunt in the first inning.
After Ervin struck out the next five Reds reached base. Zack Cozart, Joey Votto, Adam Duvall and Eugenio Suarez all singled and Suarez’s hit tied it, 1-1. Garza walked Scott Schebler on a full count to force in a run to put the Reds in front 2-1.
Jose Peraza grounded to shortstop for what looked to be an inning-ending double play. The Brewers got the force at second, but the throw to first glanced off first baseman Neil Walker’s glove for an error and two runs scored. The fifth run came across on a single by Tucker Barnhart.
Zack Cozart crushed a leadoff home run, his 18th, to open the seventh and Peraza closed the scoring with a one-out home run in the eighth.
Peraza, playing while Scooter Gennett took the day off, homered, drove in two runs and scored two. Cozart had two hits and scored twice and Duvall contributed two hits to the Reds’ 10-hit attack.
But the day belong to Castillo, who can now sit and watch the rest of the season, contemplating his spot in next year’s rotation which is littered with contenders.
Price has the rest of the month to pick from Homer Bailey, Sal Romano, Tyler Mahle, Robert Stephenson, Amir Garrett, Jackson Stephens, Cody Reed, Rookie Davis and two veterans on the disabled list, Anthony DeSclafani and Brandon Finnegan.