By Hal McCoy
They can change the name of the baseball venue in San Francisco all they want, but Luis Castillo recognizes it.
When the park on San Francisco Bay was first opened it was Pacific Bell Park. Then it became SBC Park. Then it was AT&T Park.
Now, as Castillo walks to the mound Tuesday night to face the San Francisco Giants, he’ll be pitching for the Cincinnati Reds in Oracle Park.
Pac-Bell, SBC, ATT&T, Oracle, or whatever, the place brings a smile to Castillo’s face. He has only pitched there once, but has lasting memories.
“I really do like it, I really do, even though I only pitched one time here,” he said. “I had 11 strikeouts doing it, so I really do like pitching in this ball park. And it is a pitcher’s park.”
Well, it used to be. No matter the name, the park always had one of the largest outfield acreage and long distances to the walls. But they’ve shortened it up this year.
That doesn’t matter to Castillo, as long as his fastball, his devastating change-up, and maybe some sliders mixed in are all working.
Other than learning some tough lessons, Castillo already has wiped Opening Day from his memory bank, a day he gave up six runs in the first inning to the St. Louis Cardinals.
A more happy, pLeasant memory was his second start. He pitched seven shutout innings and gave up four hits while walking one and striking out five.
Curiously, he seldom threw his slider, mainly because his fastball was ablaze and his change-up was avoiding bats.
So is he putting the slider into mothballs until further notice?
“No, no, no,” he said. “The slide is still there and it is still useful for me. Now we have to just mix in the pitches well and use it carefully when we go after batters.”
Castillo won’t be facing former Cincinnati Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto, who starts for the Giants Wednesday. Both are known for knee-buckling change-ups and a fellow countrymen from The Dominican Republic. He was asked if he ever watched Cueto closely early in his own career.
“No, I didn’t follow him beforehand (while Castillo was advancing througho the minor),” he said. “But over the years we got in contact with each other. And we actually talked Sunday. But as I’ve said, I’ve always admired Pedro Martinez more than anybody.”
Castillo was originally signed by the Giants in 2011 and pitched three years in the team’s minor league system until they traded him to the Miami Marlins in 2017.
But he won’t be facing a bunch of former minor league teammates and said only pitchers Wandy Peralta and Jarlin Garcia are left from his days with the Giants.
As he takes the mound for this third start of the season, Castillo plans to display what he did against the Pirartes in his last start and nothing from what happened in his first start against the Cardinals.
“We learned many things from that first start,” he said. “We just wanted to correct some things for the second start and we did.”
Castillo was asked by a Spanish-speaking media member what it is like pitching for the Reds this year as opposed to last year.
“There are errors that are going to happen once in a while,” he said, referring to a couple of Opening Day errors made by shortstop Eugenio Suarez. “We are all human. But I’m really excited about what this team is and what they all bring to the table this year. The team has a good thing going and it is going to be fun.
Castillo’s nickname is La Piedra, which means, ‘The Rock.’ And that’s what he hopes to be Tuesday night and for the rest of the season.
And that means no more rocky starts.