By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — It was La Piedra (‘The Stone’) versus a Nova (shining star) Thursday afternoon in Great American Ball Park and the stone prevailed.
Luis Castillo, nicknamed La Piedra, started for the Cincinnati Reds against Pittsburgh Pirates starter Ivan Nova and it was no contest, a 5-4 victory for Castillo and the Reds.
Castillo pitched six innings and his only misstep was a fifth-inning pitch to David Freese that crash landed in the upper deck, a two-run home run.
But the Reds already led, 5-0, via a grand slam home run by Eugenio Suarez and a solo rip by Jesse Winker, his first home run this season.
Castillo smiled broadly over two subjects after the game, neither of which had to do with his pitching.
When asked of the derivation of his La Piedra nickname, he flashed a grin and said, “You remember Tim Adleman?” Yes, he pitched for the Reds a couple of years ago. “For some reason, whenever I walked into the clubhouse he would start yelling, ‘La Piedra, La Piedra, La Piedra.’ So, I thought, ‘OK, that’s a nice nickname, I’ll keep it.’”
The other question that drew a smile was when he was asked about his third-inning trip to the plate. He led the inning with a walk and was on third base when Suarez laced his grand slam.
“My teammates were kidding me in the dugout about being scared facing Nova and that it wasn’t much fun,” said Castillo.
But he made it the beginning of a fun-for-all.
Of his pitching, with his record leveled at 4-and-4, Castillo said, “Like last year, I’m just going out there to do my job and that’s all I’m feeling right now. My four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball and slider all were working today.”
Castillo said Suarez giving him a 4-0 lead was appreciated, but it didn’t change his approach and he tried to pitch as if it was still 0-0.
“I wasn’t thinking about that 4-0 lead, but it is always good to have a four-run lead so I can more easily go out there and do my job,” he said.
Pittsburgh’s Nova certainly was no nova-like shining star while giving up five runs, seven hits and two walks in 5 1/3 innings.
He was especially unstar-like in the third inning when he made a couple of unforgivable mistakes that led to a huge mistake, a grooved pitch to Reds third baseman Suarez that led to his third career grand slam home run.
First of all, Nova committed one of pitching’s biggest no-no’s. He not only walked the opposing pitcher, Castillo, but he did it to lead off the inning. After Jesse Winker singled, Scooter Gennett nubbed one up the first base line, an easy out. Not easy, though, for Nova. He threw the ball high, wide and ugly to first and everybody was safe, loading the bases for Suarez.
On a 2-and-2 pitch, Suarez turned a 0-0 game into 4-0 with one swing. Winker’ home run led off the fifth inning. With those four RBI, Suarez now has 38 RBI, tied for the National League lead when the game ended. And he missed 16 days with a fractured right thumb.
“I always try to help my team in that kind of situation (tie game, bases loaded),” said Suarez. “I always try to put a good swing on it.”
Suarez put a good swing on the ball Wednesday night, too, with one out in the 12th inning and Joey Votto, representing the tying run, on third base. Suarez smashed one hard into left center, but Pittsburgh’s Corey Dickerson chased it down and snagged it.
Votto did not try to score after the catch to tie the game. If Votto had scored, to tie that game, Suarez would have taken the lead in sacrifice flies in the National League, too.
On Thursday, he made certain only a fan in the stands could catch the grand slam he hit.
“I never try to do too much,” he said. “I just try to drive in the one on third base, just try to bring that one in. God blessed me with four and I’ll take it.”
So will the Reds.
Castillo walked Aaron Frazier ahead of Freese’s home run in the fifth that made it 5-2. “He is a big league hitters and he did what he is supposed to do with that pitch,” said Castillo.
And that’s the way it stayed until one out in the ninth. Corey Dickerson reached on an infield hit to open the ninth against Amir Garrett. With one out, Austin Meadows reached the right field bleachers with a home run that sliced the advantage to 5-4 before Jared Hughes came on to get the final two outs to snag a save.
All nine runs in the game came on home runs — four swings of the bat. Suarez’s, though, counted the most and enabled the Reds to take the series from the Pirates two games to one and finish the homestand 3-and-4.
The Reds, struggling offensively of late, did not have Joey Votto (5 for 27, .185) in the starting lineup, nor did they have Tucker Barnhart (5 for 22) or Billy Hamilton (2 for 19),
Some of the players manager Jim Riggleman had in the lineup were swinging frozen bats, but he couldn’t rest bench everybody.
—Winker was 3 for 21 when the game began but had two hits, a single and his home run.
—Jose Peraza was 2 for 20 and is now 2 for 23 after going 0 for 3.
—Adam Duvall was 0 for 11 and 1 for 13 when the game began and is now 1 for 17 and 0 for 15 after going 0 for 4 with two strikeouts.
—Suarerz was 4 for 21 when he saved the day for the Reds and Castillo with his grand slam.
—Rookie Brandon Dixon, 0 for 4 for his just-born major league career, made his first major league start, playing first base while Votto rested, and pounded three hits, including a double in the eighth inning for his first extra base hit.
“That was a good win against a good ball club,” said manager Jim Riggleman. “After last night’s late game we felt there were a couple of guys we needed to get off their feet (Votto, Barnhart) so to be able to win that game with a couple of guys off, that was big.”
Dixon filled in admirably at first base for the resting Votto with his three hits. His first major league hit came in the fourth inning when the right handed Dixon poked an opposite-field single to right field.
“In today’s world, if you hit a ground ball the other way you have a chance for a hit because everybody shifts,” said Riggleman. “So I hope he can do that — not just feel for it, but drive the ball that way. That’s good hitting.”