CINCINNATI — Manager David Bell tabbed Luis Castillo as the Cincinnati Reds No. 1 starter and the hard-throwing right-hander pitched like an ace.
Castillo, a somewhat surprising choice as the Opening Day starter on a staff with heralded newcomers Sonny Gray and Tanner Roark, allowed one run on two hits with eight strikeouts and three walks in 52/3 innings Thursday in Cincinnati’s 5-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Opening Day at Great American Ball Park.
“I worked really hard for this situation, for this opportunity,” Castillo said. “When I go to the mound, I have one goal in my mind: pitch as good as I can pitch to help the team win.”
Castillo did just that. Even though he received a no decision, Castillo dominated as his 97 mph fastball, a change-up in the upper 80s and a sharp slider kept the Pirates off balance.
The 26-year-old native of the Dominican Republic handled the hefty expectations of a crowd of 44,049 that treats Opening Day like a holiday. Fans responded with a roaring ovation when Castillo was removed after giving up a two-out single in the sixth inning.
“I wanted to finish the inning, but I respect [Bell’s] decision,” Castillo said.
Castillo struggled in spring training, posting a 12.46 ERA in four starts, but that’s not what Bell based his decision on when choosing his Opening Day starter. Bell put more stock in Castillo’s second half of the 2018 season, when he put up a 2.44 ERA in 11 starts.
“It’s a little bit of a feel thing early in the season,” Bell said of starting Castillo. “I’m so happy for him. What a game he pitched. We thought he would finish the inning, but a runner got on and we trust our bullpen.”
Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart marveled at Castillo’s performance.
“Luis has a really good change-up down in the zone, then he used his fastball to climb the ladder,” Barnhart said. “The second and third time through the order, he mixed in his slider.”
Seven of Castillo’s eight strikeouts came off his change, which he threw on 38 of 81 pitches. The pitch ranged from 86 to 88 mph.
“Luis had command of all his pitches,” Bell said. “He threw his fastball well, but he was throwing his off-speed pitches for strikes. That’s what he does when he’s throwing well.”
Reliever Zach Duke was the winning pitcher, retiring both hitters he faced. Duke, though, credited Castillo.
“I may have gotten credit for the win, but let’s be honest, Luis Castillo was filthy,” Duke said.