Seattle Mariners relief pitcher Diego Castillo delivers a pitch against the Houston Astros during the seventh inning in Game 1 of an American League Division Series game in Houston, Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Kevin M. Cox, File)

Seattle Mariners relief pitcher Diego Castillo delivers a pitch against the Houston Astros during the seventh inning in Game 1 of an American League Division Series game in Houston, Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Kevin M. Cox, File)

M’s reliever Castillo rediscovers changeup

The pitch could help the right-hander in his struggles against lefties.

By Ryan Divish / The Seattle Times

PEORIA, Ariz. — It wasn’t so much an epiphany or even a new thought, but as Scott Servais drove home from the Mariners complex in recent weeks, he thought about how many of his pitchers were adding pitches to their repertoires.

Robbie Ray, Logan Gilbert and George Kirby were experimenting with split-finger fastballs. Andres Munoz was testing out a sinking two-seam fastball. Marco Gonzales was adding a slider to go with his cutter and curveball.

So why couldn’t Diego Castillo add a split-finger pitch or something like it that could help him against left-handed hitters?

“He’s got such a good sinker and he gets inside the ball very easily, I wondered, I don’t know, has he ever thrown a changeup?”

The next day, Servais took his query to pitching strategist Trent Blank.

Blank thought Castillo had thrown a changeup in the minor leagues as a starter. The big right-hander confirmed as much. The staff decided to have Castillo start working on bringing it back during his flat-ground catch sessions and then bring it into his bullpen sessions.

“He threw it in the bullpen and it was pretty good,” Servais said. “We have all the TrackMan data on it and our guys were like, ‘This might work.’”

Castillo reintroduced the pitch to hitters in Sunday’s game against the Brewers.

“Going into the game, the plan was to throw a couple,” Servais said. “He threw a couple that were really good, and he kept throwing it. It was very effective. He came off the mound yesterday, he was like a kid in a candy store. He had a new toy.”

Castillo threw a perfect changeup on a 1-2 count to left-handed-hitting Garrett Mitchell for a swing and a miss.

It just offers something different from the sinker and the slider, which everybody knows that Castillo relies upon. The changeup, when thrown properly, runs away from a left-handed hitter at about 85 mph.

A year ago, lefties posted a .243/.346/.371 slash line as compared to right-handers posting a .181/.255/.260 slash line. They waited out the sinker and looked for sliders to drive.

“It started with his sinker,” Servais said. “I think it was the command at times. He knew he was struggling against lefties, and he tried to be too fine with it and would get behind in the count. And it just didn’t lead to good things at all. So hopefully this helps.”

Castillo left for Miami after Sunday’s game, but Servais told him to throw it as much as possible for the Dominican Republic.

“It’s going to work,” Servais said. “Again, it’s one day, but it’s a very interesting pitch.”

A pitch that could make Castillo more effective and not as limited.

“He’s a key piece in our bullpen and not just being able to put him in the right pockets,” Servais said. “With the extra position player that everybody has, there’s only so many right-handed hitting pockets where you walk out there where three out of four hitters are right-handed. There’s only so many teams that are built that way. He needs another weapon. I think this will help.”

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