Anthony Castro has bounced back and forth between starting and bullpen duties this season, but he's found a groove in both roles in June. Back on the hill with a chance to start Wednesday, he delivered his best outing of the year.
The No. 21 Tigers prospect allowed one run on a hit and a walk with a season-high 11 strikeouts over seven innings as Double-A Erie edged Portland, 3-2, at UPMC Park. Castro, who carried a perfect game through the first four frames, had not completed at least seven innings in a start since last Aug. 31 when he was with Class A Advanced Lakewood.
Video: Erie's Castro strikes out 11
With some subtle tweaks in his delivery, Castro felt he was able to get ahead in the count more often than not.
"My slider was working today and I was getting ahead of the hitters. That's the best I've felt out there," Castro told reporters through an interpreter after the game. "I tried to make some adjustments, staying taller a little bit and moving a little bit to the left side of the rubber so I can have a better angle and try to get ahead of the hitters."
Coming on the heels of a 2018 season that saw him post a 2.93 ERA and 1.33 WHIP with 101 strikeouts over 116 2/3 innings, the 24-year-old returned to Erie after a brief cup of coffee with the club last June. Castro got off to an inauspicious start this year, with a 5.56 ERA in April followed by a 6.50 mark in May.
But in his first three appearances in June, the right-hander looks to have turned a corner with a 2.45 ERA and 0.91 WHIP in 11 frames. Though his total ERA is 5.13, his FIP, according to Fangraphs, sits at 3.71 thanks to 45 strikeouts in 40 1/3 innings.
Things have been getting better for Castro, but pitching coach Mark Johnson said today's outing stood out.
"Yes, definitely his best outing of the season," Johnson told MiLB.com. "He was able to repeat pitches well and he executed well. Fastball has life, the command of his breaking ball just stood out today. He did a good job executing pitches and being able to repeat pitches.
"I just think he had a better feel today. You talk about pitching in a groove or that he had confidence in all three pitches -- it showed out there. He had a plan of execution and did an outstanding job."
With the strikeout pitch working well against the Sea Dogs, Castro got down to business. He threw 61 of his 90 pitches for strikes and faced two over the minimum in his longest outing with Erie. He fanned at least one batter in each of the seven innings, striking out two in four separate frames. Using his 50-grade changeup early and often allowed him to work efficiently.
"I had a good feel for my off-speed today," Castro said. "I feel that I could throw it behind in the count. There wasn't a count where I didn't feel comfortable throwing my off-speed today."
Gameday box score
The Venezuela native breezed through the game's first 12 hitters, with only one ball leaving the infield. Portland broke through in the hit column when second-ranked Red Sox prospect Bobby Dalbec singled to left to lead off the fifth. With two outs, Dalbec scampered to second when Castro uncorked a wild pitch. With the first runner in scoring position, Castro worked out of the jam with a punchout of Luke Tendler.
Johnson could tell early on that Castro had his best stuff to offer.
"I saw it in the first inning, just the consistency of his pitches," Johnson said. "He built confidence as each batter rolled on. He just showed, 'Hey, I got it today,' and did an outstanding job."
After setting down nine in a row, Castro returned to start the eighth inning, but walked Joey Curletta. That was the last batter he'd face as reliever Drew Carlton entered. Curletta would come around to score on a Jake Romanski single, creating the only true blemish on Castro's brilliant outing.
2019 MiLB include
The hurler brought his ERA down to 4.56, the first time it's been under 5.00 in exactly a month. Pitching with talented arms like top Tigers prospect Casey Mize, No. 2 Matt Manning and No. 9 Alex Faedo, Castro said he's learned from the impressive staff this season.
"I've definitely gotten some feedback from them and they way that they take care of themselves out of the field and in the field," Castro said. "They're professional about their business. I asked them a few times about the grip with throwing pitches and would get feedback during games. ... It's good having guys that have a little more experience than you on the team, so you can take advantage of that."
After Portland pushed across two runs in the seventh, Trent Szkutnik worked around a hit in the ninth to earn his first save of the season.
Josh Lester's two-run homer -- his seventh roundtripper of the year -- in the third proved the be the deciding shot for the SeaWolves.