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Castillo A Work In Progress
"For me, starting is best," said Francisco Castillo, while lifting weights in preparation for his next start. "I mean, my job here is to help the team and I will do [that] but I think I can do it best when I start the games."
Driven by his will to succeed and a preference to remain in the rotation, the 20-year-old, who says that he has experimented with several pitches, including a screwball, has improved both his changeup and slider and is averaging over a strikeout per inning.
In fact, according to Castillo, the slider has now supplanted the changeup as his number two. He said that in two-strike counts, he now prefers using that as his out pitch.
But he has, however, struggled in August and his success has been impeded by his own shoddy mechanics. The overall numbers aren't bad (3-2 with a 4.11 ERA) but after holding opponents to a .230 average in his first 37 innings pitched, he's allowed them to hit at a .345 clip and reach base over 47-percent of the time in August.
Both Castillo and the coaching staff believe that his mechanics had been an issue all along, but his supreme talent allowed him to compensate in the early going. Now, the league is catching up to him.
In his last start, a culmination of his recent difficulties, he pitched just two-thirds of an inning and gave up six hits, allowing four earned runs.
His 25 walks, six hit batsmen and 51 strikeouts are telling statistics. The numbers are symptomatic of a pitcher who possesses good stuff but lacks control or consistency in locating it.
"I've been bad," he said demurely, in an almost self-deprecating way. "I [haven't] pitched like I wanted and it's not good. I don't know, sometimes, I think I just lose the strike zone. That‘s what happens in the games. I throw my pitches and I want to get outs very quick, but if you don‘t do it…"
The pitching coach, Carlos Chantres, said that his pupil short-arms several of his throws and it takes away from his effectiveness. "At times," he said, "he gets his arms a little shorter than what we'd want and what he has to do is get it extended and away from his head."
"When he gets in trouble, sometimes he gets into his own mind. That can happen when you're 20. He gets a little hard on himself."
Castillo said that growing up in Santo Domingo, he loved the Yankees and his favorite pitchers were Jose Contreras and Mariano Rivera.
Ironically, he is like both pitchers in that they all are blessed with tremendous ability but have struggled with control at some point in their careers. Contreras, an All-Star this season, with the Yankees, at times, seemed incapable of throwing strikes or putting the ball where he'd like to. However, since the second half of the 2005 season, he seems to have harnessed the talent and is pitching to a 1.21 WHIP this year.
Mariano Rivera, who has developed impeccable control over the years, has averaged just 14 base-on-balls per season over the last six years. Castillo would love for his style to be similar to Rivera's but while in the role of starter, like Contreras.
"It would [mean] so much to me if I [could] be able to do that," he said of developing his control and throwing strikes more consistently. "I'd get the outs more [quickly] and be much, much better."
"It's not there yet," said Chantres, "but he‘s a great kid and a hard worker. He wants to learn and adjust. There are still a few things in his delivery that he needs to work on and he is getting better."
The coach believes strongly in the neophyte's ability and thinks that he'll remain a starter throughout his professional career.
"He'll be starting, I think. If there's any change, maybe long reliever. But I think he's going to be a starter. He's got great stuff."
"Down here, we keep him to [a pitch count of] 85, but he can max out at 100 to 105 in a game if he needed to."
Asked what specifically he'd like to improve upon in the remaining fifteen games of the season (most likely three more starts for him), Castillo said simply that he wants to "throw more strikes and cut down on the walks."
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