I have been waiting for many things this offseason, but perhaps none more than Juan Nicasio in an actual live game. This is a man who got drilled with a line drive last August and fell to the mound, breaking his neck. It was an unprecedented injury for a pitcher. At the time, no one had any idea just what would happen to Nicasio: Would his body recover to the point that he could throw a baseball? Would he be able to ascend the bump and face a hitter psychologically? Would he even walk again? Well, here we are seven months later, and the answers to those questions are yes, yes, and yes.
So I don’t really want to talk about anybody other than Nicasio. Troy Tulowitzki hit a couple of doubles and Rafael Betancourt threw a 6-pitch perfect 9th inning but they have never had a broken neck so I’m going to set them aside for now.
Let’s unpack Nicasio’s outing. The first pitch he threw was an easy grounder off the bat of Jemile Weeks, fielded by Tulo and Todd Helton. His next pitch was knocked into center by Eric Sogard, and on its way it came just a smidge too close to hitting Nicasio. What are the chances of that? And how would Nicasio react? He noticed, but hardly seemed shaken. In fact, it’s safe to say catcher Wilin Rosario was more rattled, since Nicasio’s next pitch wound up as a passed ball. The following pitch was another grounder, this time to second. Nicasio was one out away from recording an actual inning of work, and a scoreless one at that.
Unfortunately, it wouldn’t come quite so easily. Josh Reddick hit a single to left on the next pitch and scored Sogard. That’s an unearned run, though, because if not for Rosario’s passed ball Sogard would still have been on 1st. And the sixth pitch of the inning was a flyout from Kurt Suzuki. One run in, but all things considered a fantastic inning for Nicasio. And he wasn’t done yet.
In the second inning, he threw eight pitches. One went for a hit off the bat of Josh Donaldson, but the rest were unproductive. He got a groundout and two strikeouts, one swinging and one looking. His nasty fastball is undiminished, and that’s a miracle.
Nicasio got into a little bit of a jam in the third inning, when he allowed back-to-back singles with no out. Then he got Coco Crisp to fly out and Reddick to hit a line drive right into Tulo’s glove, allowing him to double Sogard off 1st.
Here is what is so encouraging about this outing: that Nicasio had no fear of the strike zone, that he hit his spots and pitched to contact, that his velocity is back and so is his control. I mean, wow. This guy renders me speechless.