By HAL McCOY
The Learning Curve for a young major league pitcher can be as steep as Pike’s Peak and Luis Castillo was force-fed a lesson Sunday afternoon in Petco Park.
The message: Do not use your third-best pitch in a stressful situation.
That’s what Castillo did and it cost him a grand slam home run that led to a 6-3 Cincinnati Reds loss to the San Diego Padres.
Castillo cruised through four innings — no runs, two hits, no walks and he had the Padres feeding from his hand like a camel at the San Diego Zoo.
And the Reds had given him a 2-0 lead.
Then came the fateful fifth.
Frammil Reyes opened the inning with a single and Freddy Galvin dropped a perfect bunt up the third base line for a hit. Castillo then issued his first walk on a full count to fill the bases with no outs.
The Reds got a force out at home — one out, bases still loaded and the Padres sent up pinch-hitter Hunter Renfroe to bat for starting pitcher Tyson Ross.
Castillo was ahead 1-and-2. His best pitches are a change-up and a fastball. So what did he throw? His third best pitch, a slider. And he hung it and Renfroe drove it deep into the left field seats, a grand slam home run. The 2-0 lead, with one pitch, turned into a 4-2 deficit and the Reds never recovered.
In is post-game interview, Castillo said through a translator, “It was a slider and I missed the location. We were hoping for a ground ball for a double play.”
So the Reds finished a west coast swing 3-and-6 after going 1-and-2 at three stops — Colorado, Arizona and San Diego.
And while the Padres haven’t had much success in recent years in the National League West, they own the Reds. The Reds haven’t won a series against the Padres since 2012. Over the last 38 games, the Padres are 24-14 against the Reds, their best record against any National League team over that span.
Eugenio Suarez led the second inning with his 11th home run. The Reds made it 2-0 in the top of the fifth on three straight singles by Jesse Winker, Joey Votto and Scooter Gennett.
Then came the Castillo brain cramp in the fifth. The Padres added a fifth run in the sixth against Wandy Peralta.
Reyes singled with one out and took second on a ground ball. With two outs, the Reds wisely, they thought, opted to intentionally walk Miguel Margot. That’s because due up was light-hitting catcher Raffy Lopez, hitting .145. And it was lefty versus lefty.
It backfired, though, when Lopez bounced a single up the middle for run to make it 5-2.
After Gennett’s run-scoring single in the fifth, the Reds didn’t have a hit until Gennett came to bat in the eighth. He was facing Brad Hand and it was National League Hitter of the month of May against the NL pitcher of the month of May. Gennett won the battle with his 12th home run, cutting San Diego’s lead to 5-3.
The Padres quickly retrieved that run in the bottom of the eighth when Cory Spangenberg, hitless in the series with four strikeouts, slammed a home run off Raisel Iglesias.
Because the Reds forced Hand to throw 30 pitches in the eighth, it forced San Diego manager Andy Green’s hand. He took out Hand for the ninth and brought in Kirby Yates.
It nearly backfired.
Pinch-hitter Scott Schebler opened the ninth with a single, but Billy Hamilton bounced into a double play. But Jesse Winker and Tucker Barnhart both singled.
That brought up Votto, who already had two singles and a triple. He represented the tying run. It ended when Votto rolled out to second base on a checked swing.
San Diego set-up man Craig Stammen pitched a 1-2-3 seventh inning and is having an outstanding season. A native of the village of North Star in Darke County and a former University of Dayton performer, Stammen was a free agent this winter and wanted dearly to sign with the Reds. They talked. Stammen wanted a two-year contract. The Reds offered one. So Stammen signed with the Padres.
After Monday off, the Reds open a three-game series Tuesday in Great American Ball Park against the Colorado Rockies. And making that start will be Anthony DeSclafani, his first start since September of 2016 after he missed all of last season with an elbow strain and nearly half of his season with a rib cage injury.