- Scott Powers, Reporter
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CHICAGO – Lendy Castillo made his final outing of the 2011 season pitching in relief for the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws before 2,617 fans in Hagerstown, Md.
On Monday, Castillo made his first 2012 regular season appearance. This time he was pitching in relief for the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field before a crowd of 38,136 for his major league debut.
What a difference a season has made for Castillo.
Castillo was selected by the Cubs from the Philadelphia Phillies in December’s Rule 5 draft. He must remain on the team’s 25-man roster this season or would be offered back to the Phillies for $25,000.
The Cubs were attracted to Castillo’s potential. He was eligible for the Rule 5 draft because he had five years of minor league experience, but he had only been a pitcher for two seasons. He was converted from shortstop to the mound after the 2009 season.
In 38 minor league appearances, Castillo was 7-4 with a 2.43 ERA, 111 strikeouts and 42 walks. Last season for the BlueClaws, he was 4-2 with a 2.54 ERA in 21 games, which included two starts.
Castillo earned himself a place in the Cubs’ bullpen this season after a solid spring training, going 1-1 with a 3.46 ERA, 10 walks and 11 strikeouts in 11 games and topping 96 mph.
A day after turning 23 years old, Castillo made his major league debut during the eighth inning of Monday night’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers. It didn’t go as he hoped. His first pitch was driven to right field for a single.
“I have bad luck because the first pitch was a (expletive) hit,” Castillo joked before Wednesday’s game.
After getting the next batter to fly out, Castillo nailed Jonathan Lucroy with a pitch. He then allowed a run off a sacrifice bunt and was removed.
“It’s like anybody’s first time on a major league field,” Sveum said. “His legs aren’t there. They’re just wobbly.”
Despite the shaky outing, Castillo savored his first major league game.
“It was like a dream, my dream coming true,” Castillo said. “It feels like unreal, like a dream. I’m getting more comfortable. A lot of things are new for me, like fans, a lot of fans, better hitters and everything. It was way too different. Last year, maybe I played with 5,000 fans. This year -- 40,000 fans.”
Castillo got his second crack on the mound on Tuesday, and he showed improvements. He came in again in the eighth inning and allowed no hits, walked one and struck out one. He hasn’t been near 96 mph like early in spring training, which is a slight concern for Sveum.
“He looked like he settled down a little bit,” Sveum said. “We would still like to see that velocity where we’re expecting and what we saw early in camp, too. The velocity has to come back. As long as he’s throwing strikes and throwing the breaking ball for a strike, we’re going to be a lot better off. I think you saw a little bit of maturity (Tuesday) from his first routing.”
Castillo certainly felt a lot better heading out to the mound in his second appearance.
“I was way more comfortable the second time,” Castillo said. “The first time I was nervous because of it being my first time, thinking too much about stuff. The second time was easier. I’m working on getting better.”