McCoy: Castellanos, Winker lead Reds pursuit of Brewers, Cubs in NL Central

It is difficult to find anybody who doesn’t enjoy a visit to San Diego, one of America’s prettiest and most preferred vacation destinations.

Cross the Cincinnati Reds off that list, though, especially after their recent four-day visit added four losses to their record.

They weren’t on vacation, though. It was a work assignment and they failed.

But it was not part of a June Swoon for the Reds, who sit in third place in the National League Central Division standings, four game out of first place.

Subtract those four frustrating days and nights in San Diego’s Petco Park and the Reds are 13-4 in June as they continue their pursuit of the Milwaukee Brewers and the Chicago Cubs.

The Reds already have taken three games from the Brewers this month, a sweep in Milwaukee. And they have an upcoming series on this homestand against the Cubs as well as a chance for payback to the Padres.

So where is the June success coming from? It is obvious that Nick Castellanos and Jesse Winker have hoisted the team and piggy-backed them to several victories on their way to All-Star appearances.

“I’m not quite sure about the reason for our success, I can’t put my finger on one reason,” said Castellanos. “It is quality baseball from everybody.

“Jonathan India has done a phenomenal job at leadoff, Jesse (Winker) is having an MVP season, Joey Votto is back and healthy and his presence means a lot to us,” he added. “Geno (Eugenio Suarez) has been swinging it well and coming up with big-spot homers. Wade Miley has been throwing the ball well. I don’t think it’s, ‘Oh, this is the reason.’ I think it is a collective flow with everybody on our team that has contributed more rhythmic baseball.”

There was wrist-wringing and angst when starting pitchers Sonny Gray and Jeff Hoffman lapsed on to the injured list. And despite glimpses and quick snapshots of what Luis Castillo should be, he is 2-10.

It forced the Reds to dip into their pitching reserve at Class AAA Louisville to toss rookies Tony Santillan and Vladimir Gutierrez into the mix.

And the mix is blending well.

Santillan made his third start Thursday and held the Atlanta Braves to one run and three hits over six innings to gain his first major league victory. He is 1-1 for those three starts with a 3.29 earned run average with eight walks and 16 strikeouts in 13 2/3 innings.

Gutierrez faced the Braves on Friday, carrying a 3-1 record over five starts with a 3.86 ERA, walking 13 and striking out 23 in 28 innings.

And Tyler Mahle has replaced Castillo on the most reliable list with a 7-2 record over 15 starts with a 3.56 ERA and 24 walks and 98 strikeouts over 78 1/3 innings.

Gutierrez’s only loss was in his major league debut, a 1-0 setback to the Chicago Cubs on an extremely wind-blowing-in day in Wrigley Field.

What is impressive is that both Santillan and Gutierrez appear completely composed and pitch with no apparent frayed nerves or apprehension. And both have been adept at pitching their way out of trouble.

“They are different guys, different personalities, but there is a common thread with both of them in that they are not scared, for sure,” said manager David Bell. “Definitely they are confident, they love to compete, and they have the stuff to go with it.

“The only thing they are lacking is experience,” Bell added. “That only comes with continuing to pitch. They are pitching like they have experience, but they don’t. They are just going to keep getting better and we’re very excited to have them both.

“For them to be able to step in the way they have and really help us out … they’ve really stepped in and have done a great job for us,” said Bell.

Success for the Reds, one game over .500 heading into Friday night’s game, runs through Castellanos and Winker.

Their numbers are similar. Winker’s slash line is .330/.405/.590 with 17 home runs and 45 RBI. Castellanos owns a slash line of .343/.393/.594 with 14 home runs and 42 RBI.

Castellanos emerged from a mini-slump during Thursday’s 5-3 win over the Braves. He drove in four of the five runs with a two-run home run, a run-producing double and a sacrifice fly.

“There are certain points in a game, certain at bats, plays that he makes — they come from a desire to win,” Bell said of Castellanos. “You have to get that motivation from somewhere to do it consistently for a whole year. This guy just wants to win. That’s what allows him to keep competing for nine innings, no matter what. It’s a big part of why he is such a good player.”