By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — Luis Castillo’s nickname is La Piedra, ‘The Stone’ in Spanish. And for nearly half a game Tuesday night in Great American Ball Park, Castillo was a stone-cold killer.
With some early-season mechanical glitches fixed by pitching coach Danny Darwin and Ted Power, Castillo led the Reds to a 7-2 victory over the New York Mets.
Castillo, given an early 4-0 lead, was breezing like Justify in the Kentucky Derby in the early going. Actually, he was perfect for 4 2/3 innings — 14 up and 14 down.
The spell ended in the fifth inning after he struck out Jay Bruce and Adrian Gonazlez, the two most dangerous hitters in the lineup. Amad Rosario singled sharply to left field. Castillo then struck out Tomas Nido.
Castillo, though, didn’t make it out of the sixth inning after Wilbur Flores hit a one-out home run. With two outs, Asdrubel Cabrera singled and Yoenis Cespedes walked.
That ended Castillo’s night. He was replaced by Amir Garrett and Garrett immediately walked two straight, forcing in a run to make it 4-2, before he struck out pinch-hitter Brandon Nimmo to leave the bases loaded.
Castillo, now 2-and-4, pitched 5 2/3 innings and gave up two runs, three hits, walked one and struck out seven.
Asked afterward if it was his best start of the season, La Piedra smiled broadly and said, “Yes. And there is more to come.”
And his sessions with the pitching coaches?
“Yes, it was small details, small details that I was tryling to make adjustments to in the bullpen and that helped me in the game, too” he said.
Catcher Tucker Barnhart cited more usage by his slider to go with his devastating change-up.
“He a threw a lot more sliders than in the past and that helped,” said Barnhart. “That kept guys more off balance than normal. In the past he hadn’t thrown as many sliders to left handed hitters. He pounded the strike zone from the start and had a quick first inning.
And he had a quick second inning, third inning and fourth inning — one, two three and one, two, three and one, two, three and one, two three.
“I was believing in both those pitches, my slider and my changeup,” said Castillo. “I was throwing them in any count and it really helped.”
How about thoughts dancing in his head about a perfect game or a no-hitter? Once again he grinned and said, “I always just focus and try to pitch my game. Tucker and I had a plan and we executed the plan. I just tried to pitch a good game.”
The Reds found the perfect get-well card, a card with the picture of Mets starter Jason Vargas on it.
He came into the game with an 0-and-2 and a 16.20 earned run average. In his two previous starts, he gave up six runs and 11 hits to the Atlanta Braves in 4 2/3 innings and nine runs and nine hits in 3 2/3 innings to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
And the Reds said hello in the first inning as if they might never make an out. The first four reached base — Jose Peraza singled, Scott Schebler singles, Joey Votto was hit by a pitch and Eugenio Suarez singled for two runs.
The Reds took it to 4-0 in the third when Votto walked and scored on Suarez’s double. Adam Duvall walked and Tucker Barnhart singled home Suarez.
Barnhart had a triple and a single in his first two at bats on a night he wasn’t supposed to play. Devin Mesoraco was in the lineup but when he was traded down the hall to the Mets before the game Barnhart was inserted into the lineup. Mesoraco left Cincinnati on a 21-game losing streak — the Reds had lost the last 21 games he started behind the plate, 11 last year and 10 this year.
The Reds put it away with three runs in the seventh, highlighted by Eugenio Suarez’s run-scoring single for his third RBI of the game and Scooter Gennett’s two-run home run that pushed the Reds up, 7-2.
Manager Jim Riggleman was pleased with Castillo’s quick turnaround from struggling to dominating.
“We have some good pitching coaches and they’ve put some time in with him and Luis has responded,” said Riggleman. “We just want to keep him on a nice roll. He was aggressive with his changeup, had a good one, and got a lot of strikeouts on it. Just a really good performance.”