"This is huge for me," Castro said. "It was a lot different than other seasons I had. It was my best season in baseball. Everything went great. This year was awesome."
Three years ago, Castro had an easier time hitting the backstop than the mitt. He walked 30 in 50.2 innings while posting a 6.22 ERA.
"I have come very far in the last three years," Castro said. "It is unbelieavable. That is something I have always said comes from God because I have never seen anyone make progress like this in three years because I had mechanical problems, no control, and was a mess. Now, I have better location, a very good feel for control, and feel like I can throw the pitch wherever I want. That is so good for me."
Things progressed well in 2008, as he lowered his ERA to 3.99. He still walked 29 in 65.1 frames but held the opposition to a .223 average.
In 2009, Castro held the opposition to one run or less in 14 of his 28 outings. He led the Midwest League in strikeouts with 157 and placed eighth in the entire minors in strikeouts per nine innings pitched.
Castro walked just 37 all year long. Nine of those free passes came during two games. He averaged a walk a game in his other outings.
"That was big for me this year – to keep my walks down," Castro said. "That was something I wanted to improve on this year because I knew I had trouble walking people in the past. I didn't worry about it, though. I just wanted to throw strikes, no matter what happens, throw strikes and let it go."
The culmination of his season appeared to be the no-hitter he tossed on August 18 versus Dayton – a seven inning no-no that saw him walk one and strikeout nine. It was the first no-hitter in Fort Wayne franchise history.
Four starts later, in the TinCaps first playoff game of their championship run, Castro again found himself in position for a no-no. He put down the first 10 batters he faced before hitting a batter. He would walk two – the final free pass coming with two outs in the seventh. He was then pulled after 85 pitches in a 1-0 game.
Doug Dascenzo made the tough decision when he pulled him from the game, noting it was one of the hardest moves he had ever done.
Which outing was better?
"Both of those things were huge for me," Castro admitted. "The no-no during the regular season was big, but the almost no-no in the playoffs when you have a lot of pressure because you are playing to win – that was so exciting for me. Doing that in the playoffs was great, but both were very exciting for me."
Castro would allow just one run on four hits across 12.1 playoff innings.
Over his last 11 starts, including the playoffs, Castro allowed one run or less in nine of those. He tossed shutout ball six times during that span. His last six outings produced a miniscule 0.50 ERA.
Tired in August and September when games matter most? Not Castro. He thrives under those circumstances.
"That is something that I enjoy doing," Castro said. "I always try and do my best job everytime out. I never say that ‘I am tired.' I tell myself each start, ‘I need to do something positive. I need to work on this and get better.' I think everything comes from there and that mindset."
The success and mindset permeates his career. He was a fastball guy without command. He toned down the mid-90s heater, found consistency in mechanics and was locating the heater at will.
The slider came next. It was slurvy with some curveball type action. Castro tightened it up and it has become a second plus pitch.
The changeup has been the last piece of the puzzle. It used to be an afterthought. Now, it is a piece of what makes him so good.
"My changeup is 80 percent good right now," Castro said. "Before, I didn't even throw it. Now, I have confidence in the pitch. I have a good feel for it, and I know how it makes the hitters struggle when I throw it for strikes."
The big right-hander flirted with playing winter ball but decided to focus on preparation for the 2010 season. He is working out at the San Diego Padres Dominican Academy, giving him access to other players and the continued regime he followed during the regular season.
There has been talk from some on the coaching staff that the 2010 version of Castro could be the next Mat Latos – a player that begins the year in A-ball and ends up in San Diego. There has also been talk of skipping him over High-A Lake Elsinore altogether.
To get to the biggest stage, Castro knows he still has work to do.
"I have to keep praying to God to help me and keep working hard – just as hard as I have this year, the year before, and throughout my career. I want to keep getting better and the only way to do that is to work hard."
A repeat as MadFriars.com Pitcher of the Year would be pittance compared to a shot with the big league club.
MadFriars.com Pitcher of the Year: Simon Castro
Denis Savage and John Conniff collectively chose Simon Castro as MadFriars.com's Pitcher of the Year.
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