GENEVA – Like most of his Cougars teammates, right-hander Lendy Castillo monitored the clubhouse flatscreen TV before Monday afternoon’s game.
The parent Cubs were playing their home opener, and the flickering images brought credence to so many Castillo stories.
Castillo already had pitched on WGN and inspired the play-by-play of broadcaster Len Kasper. He began 2012 with the Cubs before pulling his groin and rehabbing in the minors before a late-season return. A year later, he finds himself with the Cubs’ Class-A affiliate, honing his delivery and offering his acumen.
Castillo did both in the Cougars’ 6-5, 10-inning victory against Clinton, kick-starting what he hopes is a lasting climb to the top of the organization.
“I’m down here to work on my pitches, getting better every day,” Castillo said. “And hopefully soon, [I’ll be] up there [in Chicago].”
Castillo, who celebrated his 24th birthday Monday, was in line for the victory before Clinton (2-3) rallied late against reliever Justin Amlung. Castillo worked effectively with his slider down in the zone while spacing three hits, one earned run, two walks and four strikeouts in five innings.
“I feel pretty healthy now,” he said. “I’m working so hard to be healthy.”
Trailing, 5-1, entering the eighth, the LumberKings struck for two runs each in the eighth and ninth, including home runs from Guillermo Pimentel and Taylor Ard.
With Kane County (1-4) unable to respond – consecutive strikeouts from middle-of-the-order threats Dan Vogelbach and Jeimer Candelario with two on ended the ninth – the Cougars braced for their third successive extra-inning game.
Right fielder Bijan Rademacher ended the club’s season-opening skid when he smacked a Blake Hauser changeup to center field with two outs in the 10th, scoring Rock Shoulders to cap a 13-hit attack.
Catcher Chadd Krist and Rademacher (three RBIs) both had three hits, while Shoulders and Pin-Chieh Cheng went 2 for 5. Vogelbach drove in two runs.
“Those past two games going into extra innings, it really helped us out. It kind of motivated us,” Rademacher said. “I know me personally, I didn’t want to be standing out there another two, three innings, however long this game would have went on. I wanted to end it now.”
Castillo admitted few nerves after watching the final innings, calling the late bullpen struggles part of a game in which “Anything can happen.”
He would know. A converted infielder acquired by the Cubs as a Rule 5 draft pick from the Philadelphia Phillies organization in December 2011, Castillo made his major league debut on April 9, 2012, and finished with 13 appearances for the Cubs, compling a 7.88 ERA while striking out 13 in 16 innings.
He also pitched for the Cubs’ Rookie, Advanced-A and Double-A affiliates, a journey that inspires many in the clubhouse to pick Castillo’s experienced brain.
Krist and righty Pierce Johnson both called Castillo “really smart.” For pitching coach Ron Villone, that’s a good base.
“I think more than mastering is just accepting that pitching is a craft. You’ve got to put time in. You’ve got to be able to watch. You’ve got to be able to listen, “Villone said. “There’s a lot of things ... but we’re going slow with everybody here. We’re not throwing too much at them at once. Talent is going to speak a whole lot better than coaching, and he’s got talent.”