What drew Nick Castellanos to the Cincinnati Reds as a free agent in January 2020 was the club’s starting pitching.
Castellanos saw how dominant starting pitching carried the Detroit Tigers to the postseason at the beginning of his career with four Cy Young winners in the rotation – Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, David Price and Rick Porcello.
The Reds no longer have Trevor Bauer or Anthony DeSclafani, but their rotation has ignited their play throughout the past month. The Reds have a 3.27 ERA in June, entering Tuesday’s series opener against San Diego, which includes nine quality starts in their last 14 games.
“I chose to come to Cincinnati in the beginning of 2020 just because of the team that we had,” Castellanos said. “More so than anything, it was the starting pitching rotation that we had, all the power arms that we could roll in day in and day out. Being in Detroit, I know how important racking up strikeouts is to push yourself deep into the season and deep into the postseason.
“All of these moments, I guess, are a result of me picking the best place that I thought I had the most realistic opportunity to win.”
The Reds have a 17-10 record since May 30, which is the third-best mark in the National League. Their rotation has MLB’s fourth-lowest ERA (3.10) since that date, trailing the New York Mets (2.62), Houston Astros (2.79) and Washington Nationals (2.90).
A look at how the starters have performed this month:
LUIS CASTILLO – 1.71 ERA through five starts with 32 strikeouts and 12 walks in 31 2/3 innings.
After a poor start to the season, he looks like himself again. He’s still walking a lot of batters, but his strikeouts are back up. The whiffs on his changeup have returned.
“His mindset was really the key,” Reds manager David Bell said of Castillo’s last start. “He was on the attack, attacking with what he’s great at.”
WADE MILEY – 2.81 ERA through five starts with 29 strikeouts and eight walks in 32 innings.
He’s an All-Star candidate with a 3.09 ERA through 14 starts this season. He gave up four runs Monday, just the third time this year that he’s surrendered more than two earned runs in an outing.
TYLER MAHLE – 4.34 ERA through five starts with 41 strikeouts and eight walks in 29 innings.
The numbers are a bit inflated because he gave up four runs with a nine-run lead at the end of an outing against the Colorado Rockies. His strikeout rate has spiked in the last two years with the success of his slider and splitter.
“In the big leagues, I don’t know if I’ve pitched like this over this amount of time,” Mahle said earlier this month. “I feel like I always find myself having a good start, bad start, good start, bad start. It feels pretty good to be a little more consistent.”
VLADIMIR GUTIERREZ – 4.34 ERA through five starts with 24 strikeouts and 14 walks in 29 innings.
Opposing hitters respect how much Gutierrez remains on the attack. His fastball sets up his other three pitches (slider, curve, change).
TONY SANTILLAN – 3.29 ERA through three starts with 16 strikeouts and eight walks in 13 2/3 innings.
He seems likely to move to the bullpen once Sonny Gray returns to the rotation Friday. Santillan has pitched out of some jams in his short time in the Majors, a credit to his poise on the mound.
"Once Sonny comes back there (are) no plans to stay with a six-man rotation," Bell said. "We’ll have to make that decision soon. It hasn’t been made yet, so I’d rather wait until we all talk that through. We definitely will want to have our best staff. If one of our starters is one of our best 13-14 guys, it’ll definitely be a consideration to put them in the bullpen."
SONNY GRAY – 3.52 ERA through two starts with 13 strikeouts and one walk in 7 2/3 innings.
Gray is expected to return Friday after a right groin strain. He struck out five across three scoreless innings in the start that he had to exit early because of his injury.
FIRST HIT: Alejo Lopez didn’t want to waste any time when he came to the plate in his Major League debut Monday.
Lopez hit a single to left field on the first pitch he saw, igniting a four-run inning that culminated with a grand slam from Nick Castellanos.
“There is still a lot going on right now emotionally,” Lopez said afterward. “When that ball dropped, a lot of pressure released off my shoulders, so that was nice. They said the first one is always the hardest one, then you can just go ahead and do your thing. I really wanted it. Anything over the plate, I was swinging.”
Lopez did the same thing when he made his debut at Triple-A Louisville. He arrived midgame, then singled on the first pitch he saw.
What was special Monday is that the Phillies made a pitching change after Lopez’s first Major League hit. The Great American Ball Park crowd responded with a big applause for Lopez.
“That was a very special moment,” said Lopez, who plans to give his first hit baseball to his parents. “The game is quick. If he would have stayed in, it just would have been next pitch, here we go. That was nice. I wouldn’t want it any other way. It was a cool minute to really just take a look at everything and just enjoy it. It felt amazing. I’ve worked very hard to get here, and that was just a very cool moment to finally get here.”
HISTORIC NIGHTS: Castellanos drove in a career-high seven runs during Monday’s 12-4 victory against the Philadelphia Phillies. He was the second Reds player with a seven-RBI game this year (Tyler Naquin on April 6).
It’s just the third time since 1920 where the Reds had multiple players with a seven-RBI game, according to Elias Sports Bureau. It happened in 1955 (Smoky Burgess and Gus Bell) and 1974 (Joe Morgan and Johnny Bench).