GOODYEAR, Arizona — Luis Castillo exaggerated his throwing motion. Walking through his windup and pretending to throw a pitch, he then darted toward first base, where a coach would field a ground ball and flip to Castillo covering the bag.
After catching the ball and touching the base all-in-one, Castillo made a basketball-like shot into a nearby bucket. Under his breath he muttered, “Yes!”
An appropriate exclamation for making the shot, and more importantly, for the return of baseball.
Wednesday marked the Cincinnati Reds’ first official workout for pitchers and catchers. Castillo, 25, is expected to be a mainstay in the rotation after a promising showing over the second half of 2017.
The tall, lanky right-hander made the jump from Double-A to the major leagues after 14 starts with the Pensacola Blue Wahoos. A 4-4 record and 2.58 ERA parlayed into the promotion every ballplayer dreams of.
Castillo, the Reds’ number-eight prospect in 2016, made his debut June 23 against a potent Washington Nationals lineup, surrendering just two earned runs over five innings. He notched his first career win a week later against the Milwaukee Brewers, punching out nine and allowing two runs through 5.2 IP.
As the season progressed, Castillo began to live up to the hype that had been associated to his name in years past. Though a 3-7 record in 15 starts may be an ugly sight, a 3.12 ERA is not. He struck out 98 batters in 89.1 IP, including a season-high 10 in his final start of the year against the Brewers.
More impressively, more than half of Castillo’s outings resulted in quality starts for manager Bryan Price. In his 15 appearances, he managed to last six innings without permitting more than three runs eight times. That’s a remarkable feat considering he had never thrown a pitch above Double-A before June.
What Castillo offers — a fastball reaching triple digits and a wicked, put-away slider — is too hard to ignore. On top of the way he makes batters look silly, there’s also the durability he provides when he toes the rubber every fifth day.
Though we were able to get just a glimpse of it last summer, it isn’t outlandish to think 2018 will be the official coming out party of Luis Castillo.