GOODYEAR, Arizona - After making his first start of the spring, Cincinnati Reds pitcher Luis Castillo said he left a few of his off-speed pitches over the plate, and he only threw his slider once since the pitch didn’t land in the strike zone on his first attempt.
He didn’t mention that his fastball was sitting at 96 mph, or that he pitched two no-hit innings on Friday against the Seattle Mariners. In his spring debut, he looked close to the pitcher who had a 2.20 ERA last September.
“I wasn’t 100 percent comfortable because it was my first time out, but it’s the first start and I got a chance to pitch against the guys,” Castillo said through translator Jorge Merlos. “It’s just the start to get ready for the season.”
Castillo focused on his command, and it translated against most of the Seattle Mariners best hitters. In the first inning, he got two groundouts to open the inning, and then struck out reigning Rookie of the Year Kyle Lewis on a change-up.
In the second inning, Castillo got a fly out from Evan White, who was a top-100 prospect last season. Then he got a groundout from Tom Murphy, who was one of the 10 best hitting catchers in MLB in 2019.
While some of the Reds pitchers made their spring debuts against mostly minor league competition, Castillo looked close to his best against quality major league players.
“That may be the best we've seen him look this early in spring training,” manager David Bell said. “I think it's a great sign for where he is this early.”
Alex Blandino is playing his best baseball
In spring training, the Reds second-best hitter has been a player who went the entire 2020 season without appearing in the major leagues. Heading into spring training, Blandino was a candidate for one of the last spots on the roster, and he has helped himself with his .444 batting average and his 1.135 OPS.
“I mean this as a compliment, you can almost forget about him in a way just because he quietly goes about his job,” Bell said. “It definitely doesn't go unnoticed. He's doing all that he can do, which in the end, it's going to pay off for him.”
Blandino is being given an opportunity to show why he could make the team. He ranks second on the team with 21 plate appearances, and he has played in two games at second base, third base and shortstop.
On Saturday against the Oakland Athletics, Blandino got another chance to start at shortstop.
“He does a lot of things offensively really well,” Bell said. “He can play all over the infield. He just has to keep working and staying sharp at all the infield positions and continue to show what he can do.”
No closer so far
During the first two weeks of spring training, relief pitchers Amir Garrett and Lucas Sims haven’t pitched yet because of injury set-backs. A third candidate, Sean Doolittle, has allowed seven runs and four home runs in two innings.
Bell said he’s confident that Doolittle will “figure this out and bounce back,” and Garrett and Sims are expected to be ready for the season.
“That’s the way I’m choosing to look at it now,” Bell said. “Obviously, you have to be ready to adapt and adjust if something changes, but we’re still thinking positive. Those three should factor into the back end of our bullpen and also close games.”
Joey Votto update
First baseman Joey Votto cannot return to spring training until March 20 at the earliest since he tested positive for the coronavirus.
Bell didn’t have an update on when Votto could return.
“One thing about the COVID, this is just such a new world we’re still living in,” Bell said. “It’s really only been a year. I think we’re going to see people respond in different ways, so there’s no real playbook.”