McCoy: Castellanos leads Reds past Braves

When last seen, the Atlanta Braves permitted zero runs over 22 innings to the Cincinnati Reds during last season’s National League playoffs, one of the franchise’s more embarrassing two days.

The Reds rectified that in the first inning Thursday night in the first game of a four-game series in Great American Ball Park.

And they added four more over the course of the game against the injury-crippled Braves en route to a 5-3 victory.

Nick Castellanos was a one-man RBI machine, driving in four of his team’s five runs with a sacrifice fly, a two-run home run and a run-scoring double.

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Jonathan India, batting leadoff for the 18th time, reached base three times with two doubles and a walk and Castellanos drove him in all three times.

“He is a young aggressive hitter with phenomenal bat-to-ball skills,” said Castellanos, talking about India. “If you put him in a spot in front of Jesse Winker and me, it sets him up for success with the pitches he is going to see. To his credit, he is also taking his walks.”

Manager David Bell said he is running out of descriptive words for India.

“He plays with such energy, an inexperienced player that is playing like he is experienced,” said Bell. “I’m running out of words to explain how he his playing.

“It’s the way he goes at it,” Bell added. “He is intense in a good way, he is serious about it, in a good way. But he has a good way about him that the rest of our team respects for the way that he plays. The leadoff spot is a nice fit for him.”

After his two-run home run that pushed the Reds from 2-1 to 4-1, Castellanos had a message.

“In that spot, as soon as I got back in the dugout I told D.J. (pitching coach Derek Johnson) that those are the spots I have to be better in,” he said. “Throughout the road trip and throughout the year, honestly, I need to be better with runners in scoring position. To come through right there for the team and the fans, that was money.”

The Braves, down to three healthy starting pitchers and forced to play two doubleheaders this week, used Thursday as a bullpen day and used six relief pitchers. And they will have to do it again during the series.

In addition, they were without their superstar, Ronald Acuna Jr., and manager Brian Snitker had to use pitcher Charlie Morton as a pinch-hitter early in the game.

So it was up to the Reds to take advantage of it and they did … barely.

Rookie pitcher Tony Santillan held the Braves to one run and three hits over six innings and turned a 4-1 lead over to the bullpen.

Santillan was in danger zones in the second, fourth and sixth innings and pitched out of them with the use of a zone-splitting slider.

He put the first two on in the second, then retired three straight. He put two on with one out in the fourth, then struck out Kevin Smith and Ender Inciarte.

With two outs in the sixth, he walked a batter and hit a batter, then retired Smith.

And why did Bell permit a rookie to stay in the game in the sixth inning with two runners on and disaster one swing away?

“You could tell early on that he was pitching with confidence, had the stuff and he had pitches left,” said Bell of Santillian’s 104-pitch night. “He had done a nice job of showing me he could get everybody out in their lineup. He made it easy to stay with him there.”

Santillan got the job done with slider after slider at critical moments.

“Confidence, confidence, confidence,” he said about why he used the slider so much. “I can throw it for strikes any time and any place. It’s my go-to pitch. I am able to do anything with it, no matter the situation or the hitter.”

After Santillan left, Amir Garrett pitched a 1-2-3 seventh, but Tejay Antone encountered major issues in the eighth, giving up two runs that drew the Braves to within 4-3. He got the last out of the inning with the bases loaded.

The Braves took a quick 1-0 lead in the top of the first. Freddie Freeman, the game’s second batter, annihilated Santillan’s first pitch 442 feet halfway up the right center bleachers.

The Reds tied it, 1-1, in the bottom of the first when India doubled to the right field corner, took third on the first of four wild pitches thrown by Atlanta pitchers. He scored on a sacrifice fly by Castellanos.

The Reds made it 2-1 in the third when Santillan led off the inning with his first major league hit, a hard double pulled to left field. He took third on India’s ground ball to the right side and scored on Votto’s infield hit to shortstop.

It stayed 2-1 until the seventh when Atlanta’s Luke Jackson took the mound, carrying a scoreless streak of 12 1/3 innings. He walked India and Castellanos lost one deep into the left center seats, a two-run shot and a 4-1 lead.

After the shaky, scary eighth for the Reds, they retrieved one of those runs as Castellanos struck again.

With two outs and nobody on, India doubled and Jesse Winker walked. Castellanos doubled off the right field wall and India scored his third run with the fourth RBI credited to Castellanos.

Brad Brach gave up a two-out single to Freeman in the ninth, but struck out Austin Riley to end it.