Ryan Castellani didn't perform the way he hoped last season for Double-A Hartford, but a change of scenery for 2019 seems to have made a difference.
The Rockies' No. 12 prospect allowed four hits and struck out eight over six innings on Friday, pitching Triple-A Albuquerque to a 6-0 blanking of Tacoma at Isotopes Park. He improved to 2-0, lowered his ERA to 1.72 and posted his highest strikeout total since fanning eight for Hartford last April 30.
Video: Albuquerque's Castellani strikes out eight
A 2014 second-round pick, Castellani struggled over the last two seasons. After posting a 4.81 ERA over 157 1/3 innings in the Eastern League in 2017, he repeated the circuit last year and had his ERA climb to 5.49. Finnicky command and an out of sync delivery led to higher walk rates and lower strikeout rates his second time around, but a successful stint in the Arizona Fall League and an invitation to big league Spring Training were positive steps.
"I've come a long way," the right-hander said. "Just a year ago, I was in a completely different place. Last season wasn't great, but I learned a ton from it. I was off, physically, arm-slot wise. Sitting down with some of the pitching coaches and looking at the numbers, it was pretty easy seeing what needed to change.
"That break in between the end of the season and the Fall League was really important for me. Seeing some of the things that I did in the Fall League made me feel really good about where I was at. It's really been a slow build back to what is right for me. I feel great now and am sticking with what is working."
Gameday box score
In that autumn stint, Castellani pitched in seven games for the Salt River Rafters. His numbers didn't exemplify his success -- he had a 5.13 ERA with a 1.44 WHIP -- but his main goal was gaining familiarity with his arm slot.
"I'm a lower, three-quarter slot, but last year it was almost six inches higher," Castellani said. "It was a combination of a lot of things, maybe trying to get on top of the curveball and the fastball, and it just build up over time. My velo was down, my spin rate was down and I didn't have much movement on the ball. All I did was drop my arm slot and everything came back. From Fall League to now, it's just been feeling that familiarity of what makes me go."
Familiarity was a recurring concept in Friday's victory, as it marked the second consecutive start that Castellani has faced Tacoma. He also faced the Rainiers on April 13, when he notched his first Triple-A victory after throwing 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball and striking out seven.
"For me, that's huge," he said. "I don't ever want to go into an outing and have it be my first time seeing a guy hit. The more familiar I am, the better off I am."
Since moving up to the Pacific Coast League, Castellani (2-0) has given up three earned runs over 15 2/3 innings. He's fanned 19, a trend much more indicative of the arm the Rockies are looking for. Friday also was his longest outing of the season.
The right-hander pitched with an early advantage, thanks to 10th-ranked Sam Hilliard, who smacked a solo homer in the second.
The Isotopes used the long ball to pad the lead in the third. Brendan Rodgers, MLB.com's No. 9 overall prospect, ripped a two-out two-run blast to end a 1-for-16 funk. The top Rockies prospect added a leadoff double in the seventh for his first multi-hit effort since April 12.
Video: Topes Rodgers smashes home run
"I know he wanted that bad," Castellani said. "He came back to the dugout and he was pumped. I'm never really worried about him. I've played with him the last 2 1/2 years now, and just one swing of the bat, something special can happen. The ball just sounds different coming off of his bat."
2019 MiLB include
Hilliard finished the night 2-for-3 with two runs scored, and Craig Gentry went 2-for-2 with a double, an RBI and a run scored.
No. 20 Colorado prospect Jesus Tinoco allowed a walk and struck out one in a scoreless ninth.
Eric Young Jr. went 2-for-5 with a stolen base for the Rainers.
Christian Bergman (0-1) took the loss. He allowed two earned runs on eight hits in 2 2/3 innings.