There weren’t any fireworks Thursday in Cincinnati. Luis Castillo made sure of that.
The 26-year-old ace took no prisoners Thursday, but he did take a no-hitter into the seventh inning as the Reds dispensed of the visiting Milwaukee Brewers in shutout fashion while claiming a series win over their division rival. Castillo, proud owner of one of the most infuriatingly unhittable changeups in recent memory, gave the Brewers the business, silencing Christian Yelich and company en route to his team-leading eighth victory. The Dominican Republic native hurled 7 2/3 innings of shutout ball and would have had a fighting chance at his first career shutout if not for a pesky rain shower that interrupted play for an hour and nine minutes. Castillo brought a two-game losing skid into Thursday’s festivities (though one of those “losses” included a seven-inning gem against Chicago), but you wouldn’t know it by the way he flung it in arguably the most complete effort of his young career.
All eyes were on Castillo as the first-time All-Star took his no-hit bid into the seventh, finally losing it on a base hit up the middle by rookie Keston Hiura. Had he finished the job, it would have marked the 17th no-hitter in franchise history and the first for the Reds since Homer Bailey pulled it off in 2013. History may have eluded Castillo, but Thursday still served as a compelling showcase for one of the more underappreciated arms in baseball. When all was said and done, the right-hander cashed in with nine strikeouts and a free pass over 97 pitches. The one walk charged to him was actually David Hernandez’s doing, but because of the rain delay (play resumed with a 2-0 count to Jesus Aguilar), the official scorer put it on Castillo’s tab. No matter. The former Marlins farmhand had more than enough juice to tame Milwaukee, winning his showdown with Brewers K artist Brandon Woodruff who is having a breakout year of his own (tied for second in the majors with 10 wins).
The Reds got it done on America’s 243rd birthday, but thanks to the uneven stylings of erratic closer Raisel Iglesias, Thursday’s proceedings went from done deal to nail-biter in an instant. Tasked with protecting a narrow 1-0 lead, Iglesias put the tying run aboard by serving up a leadoff double to reigning National League MVP Christian Yelich. Iglesias would recover to nail down his 16th save but he needed some defensive heroics behind him to make that happen. Phillip Ervin, who entered as a pinch-hitter in the seventh and stayed on defensively in left field, broke into the big leagues on the strength of his potent bat. But on Thursday, it was his glove that did the talking. With nobody out and Yelich lurking at second, Ervin gave chase on a Mike Moustakas pop-up in foul ground. Reaching into a sea of souvenir-starved fans, Ervin gloved it for a monster robbery while putting Cincinnati one out closer to its fourth win in five games.
In many ways, 2019 has been an exercise in frustration for the Reds. Iglesias has walked a tightrope in the ninth. Eugenio Suarez has taken a slight step back. Joey Votto is finally showing his age (though he’s starting to come around). Yasiel Puig seems more concerned with fighting people than improving his average (.247). And Scooter Gennett, an All-Star for the Reds a year ago, had yet to see the field until last week. But amid that oasis of disappointment, Cincy is only 3.5 games out of first place. The NL Central is neither the league’s best nor worst division, but there’s little doubt that it’s the tightest with barely any room to breathe between the first-place Cubs and Brewers with the Reds bringing up the rear at 41-44. The season’s first half brought clarity to most division races, but not the chaotic NL Central, which seems to change hands on a nightly basis.
While the offense hasn’t always been up to snuff (only three teams have a worse average), the pitching has certainly done its job as the Reds, who are currently riding a 23-inning shutout streak, boast the league’s third-lowest ERA at 3.65. Castillo has had much to do with that. The third-year flamethrower has made his presence felt by ranking second in the majors in both ERA (2.29) and opponent batting average (.169) while also boasting the league’s lowest contact rate at 65.7 percent. Command issues have plagued him at times—he’s walked an MLB-leading 53 batters through 18 turns in the Reds’ rotation. But Castillo has still flummoxed hitters in a way few could have imagined, least of all fantasy owners. On average, the 6’2”, 190-pounder was selected in the 13th round of fantasy drafts this spring.
Castillo has drawn a bit of trade buzz (the Yankees are known to be infatuated with him), but given his team-friendly contract (he won’t hit the free-agent market until 2024), it would take a haul-and-a-half to pry him loose from Cincinnati. Maybe the Yankees or another contending team will bowl Cincy over with a godfather offer leading up to the July 31 deadline, but with the Reds still afloat in the up-for-grabs NL Central, why wouldn’t they give Castillo the ball and see how far he takes them?
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AL Quick Hits: The Mariners have shut down Mitch Haniger following a setback to his injured groin. A participant in last year’s All-Star game, Haniger hasn’t seen the field since early June. … Yolmer Sanchez received three stitches after having his hand stepped on Thursday against Detroit, but White Sox manager Rick Renteria is confident he’ll be back in the lineup after the team’s off day on Friday. X-rays on the second baseman’s hand came back negative. … The Angels played shorthanded Thursday against Texas with Justin Upton and Albert Pujols both absent. Upton sat out with a sore quad while Pujols is still feeling the effects of a foul ball he hit off his foot earlier this week. … Jose Ramirez brought the thunder on Thursday, belting a pair of round-trippers in a win over Kansas City. The two-time All-Star hadn’t left the yard since June 18 prior to Thursday’s outburst. … Matthew Boyd missed plenty of bats Thursday, matching a career-high with 13 punch-outs in a no-decision. Among AL hurlers, only Gerrit Cole (161), Chris Sale (153) and Justin Verlander (147) have logged more strikeouts than the Tigers lefty this year (142). … Marcus Stroman wasn’t able to make his scheduled start Thursday against the Red Sox, citing a left pectoral cramp as the culprit. Given all the trade rumors surrounding him, the Blue Jays ace will probably be pitching elsewhere come July 31. … Danny Jansen continued to swing for the fences Thursday, connecting on two homers in a loss to Boston. The Toronto catcher has launched six dingers over his last seven contests, bringing his season total to eight. … Kevin Kiermaier incurred another absence Thursday, missing his second straight game with wrist “irritation.” The Gold Glove outfielder is already on the mend and hopes to be back in the lineup Friday when Tampa plays host to the division-leading Yankees. … After initially being an All-Star snub, Gleyber Torres was summoned to replace Brandon Lowe in the upcoming Mid-Summer Classic. Lowe was chosen to represent the Rays in next week’s All-Star festivities but had to bow out after suffering a bruised shin. … Long-time Yankees announcer John Sterling got a night off from the broadcast booth Thursday, marking his first absence in 30 years. His attendance streak spanned an incredible 5,060 straight games. Take that, Cal Ripken!
NL Quick Hits: David Peralta underwent an MRI Thursday after experiencing shoulder tightness Wednesday against the Dodgers. The D’Backs outfielder missed about two weeks with a similar injury earlier this year. … A.J. Pollock began a minor-league rehab assignment Thursday at High-A Rancho Cucamonga and is on track to return for the start of the second half next Friday when the Dodgers begin a three-game set at Boston. An elbow infection has kept the 31-year-old out since late April. … Justin Turner was back in the Dodgers’ lineup Thursday against San Diego. The third baseman hadn’t started since Saturday while nursing a sore elbow. … Dinelson Lamet returned to the hill Thursday, pitching for the first time in 22 months following a lengthy recovery from Tommy John surgery. The right-hander was tagged for three runs in a loss to the Dodgers but impressed by totaling seven strikeouts in only five innings of work. … Cincinnati moved setup arm Amir Garrett to the injured list with a strained lat muscle. The left-hander has been otherworldly this year, compiling a superb 1.70 ERA over 42 relief outings. The Reds are optimistic he’ll return when first eligible. … Alex Wood will kick off his minor-league rehab Saturday when he takes the mound for Triple-A Louisville. Back stiffness has sidelined the former Dodger since spring training. … Kris Bryant returned to the Cubs’ lineup in style, tallying four hits including his 17th homer Thursday after missing the previous night’s game with a sore knee. On top of his hitting exploits, Bryant also had to hold back Joe Maddon, who was tossed in explosive fashion after taking exception to an up-and-in fastball on star shortstop Javier Baez. This is one of the better spin moves you’ll see among big-league managers.