As I settled in for last night’s Rockies’ game against the San Francisco Giants, I prepared to watch what we are all watching: the progress of young Juan Nicasio. As the team tries to assess if Nicasio is fit to be a starter or not, I figured we were headed for the usual with him: the good, the bad, and the really bad. Instead we just got the good, and Nicasio notched another argument in his favor for a spot in the back of the 2014 rotation. Here’s how things played out for the enigmatic right-hander in last night’s 6-1 victory.
Nicasio trots out to the mound sans high socks. This was jarring, to say the least. Needless to say I was relieved to see that he was still donning his mohawk and chin-strap beard, but I’m still upset about the socks decision.
ROOT Sports notes that Nicasio has thrown his fastball approximately 75% of the time this season. Honestly it maybe should be more, and it might be something Nicasio should consider if he can transform into some harder-throwing version of a sinker-baller. And speaking of which, those types of pitchers tend to take velocity off their fastball in favor of more movement and stink. Maybe that’s something we would like to see from Nicasio? (that’s a spoiler alert, boys and girls).
Anyway, he gets himself into a typical Nicasio situation in the first inning but not for the typical Nicasio reasons. Marco Scutaro reached on a Baltimore chop to third base on a well-located pitch. Buster Posey walked as a result of a careful sequence by Nicasio. Hunter Pence reached on a “Tulo isn’t in the lineup” roller up the middle on a pitch where Nicasio sawed off his hands. In between those plays and some traffic, Nicasio struck out the side.
It would have been easy to throw a fit about Nicasio’s inefficiency or pitch count, but it wouldn’t have been fair. He pitched well, located his pitches well, and mixed in enough
flat off-speed pitches to resemble a big league pitcher. Baseball stuff just happened. And oh by the way, he still surrendered zero runs.
Entering the inning with five K’s already, Nicasio gets into a more typical Nicasio jam. A walk and then a hard-hit ball to right field from Brandon Belt. That means runners on first and third for Posey. Back to that in a minute…
…we now interrupt this analysis to note that Marco Scutaro batted in this inning with a top-hand batting glove only. I demand an explanation. If it was a tribute to Nicasio, who also (inexplicably) bats with only a batting glove on his right hand, well, I might be OK with that. But if you wear a top-hand batting glove, you better be ready to answer for it. You’re on notice, Marco.
OK, back to Posey. Nicasio has his banner moment of the game, inducing an inning-ending double play from the reigning MVP of the “All Rockies Killers” team. Thats’ the kind of moment that defines a game…
Nothing but cold-blooded efficiency from Nicasio through the 4th and 5th innings, racking up strikeouts without racking up a pitch count. The interesting aspect of his success is the lack of velocity on his fastball; Nicasio tops out at 94 MPH and runs a number of heaters up there at 88-89 MPH…this from a guy who can chuck it 96-97 MPH. Nicasio traded velocity for good location and movement: dare we hope that this is a starting pitcher arriving before our eyes?
Still his off-speed pitches are only effective in that they are slower; otherwise they are flat and underwhelming. On this night they were enough, but that surely won’t be the case against other lineups on other nights over the course of a long season. For this stage of his career, that will be the difference between front-end and back-end guy for Nicasio.
In the 6th inning more baseball things happen, and the bad luck of the first inning cancels itself out with some good luck in the 6th inning. He begins things by plunking Belt on the foot with an ugly off-speed pitch, followed by a hit from Posey (of course). From there Nicasio works underneath his fastball and has nothing with his secondary stuff. Pablo Sandoval cranks one to the warning track which Rockies’ center fielder Charlie Blackmon catches on his tiptoes up against the wall. He then takes advantage and strikes out Brandon Crawford to end the inning and put a ribbon on a successful outing with his 9th K.
So Juan Nicasio was sharp enough early in this game that moxie and a little bit of good luck got him through a dicey final inning of an excellent outing. What he showed was the ability to pound the strike zone, take something off his fastball to locate it with some nice sink and movement, insist on using his other pitches (even though his slider and change-up are below-average pitches) and get grounders to work out of some tough spots.
That equation will lead us to an assortment of experiences from the good to the bad to the very bad. But on this night it was the good, and if that happens enough in the near future, you better believe that Nicasio will be in the mix for the starting rotation next year.