BRADENTON, Fla. – After today’s game, Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle announced that Juan Nicasio will be a member of the rotation this year, with Ryan Vogelsong being informed today that he will move to the bullpen as a multi-inning reliever. This is a big change from the plans in December, when Vogelsong was signed as a starter, and Nicasio was brought on as a reliever and the number six starter.
“It’s a hard decision,” Hurdle said. “You’ve got a guy that has experience. And I told Ryan this wasn’t about him not performing well. It was about another guy really pitching the most effective we’ve ever seen him pitch, and trying to leverage that opportunity for him. This might be a window of opportunity for Juan Nicasio to get back in play, start again and go. That’s the Plan A coming out.”
Nicasio has been a big surprise this camp, showing better stuff than either Jeff Locke or Ryan Vogelsong, and showing much better command of his stuff. The Pirates wanted him taking his reliever mentality to the rotation, focusing on one pitch at a time, and one batter at a time, rather than focusing on having to spread his stuff out over five or six innings. Nicasio talked about that on Sunday, and really seemed to embrace the concept. Hurdle said that this probably led to his success.
Hurdle also said that Nicasio has done better commanding his pitches, and pitching down in the zone.
“The combination of those two things, we know he always had good stuff,” Hurdle said. “When you repeat your delivery and you’re able to work down in the zone like that, that leads to success.”
Nicasio will make one more start on Friday, followed by Gerrit Cole making a start on Saturday. Both should be at Pirate City, as the minor leaguers still have camp days through the end of the weekend. After their starts, both will fly up and join the team for Opening Day.
Next week, Jon Niese will pitch on Tuesday, and Nicasio will pitch on Wednesday against the Cardinals. The rotation is up in the air after that, all dependent on how Cole’s start goes this weekend.
As for Vogelsong, there might be some questions about whether he can pitch in the bullpen. All spring, the Pirates have talked about how Vogelsong struggled moving back and forth between the rotation and bullpen, and would have success in a structured rotation role. Hurdle said that Vogelsong was disappointed, as would be expected, but that they explained to him how they’ve used long relievers in the past — and they typically end up helping out in a starting role eventually.
“He came here to win ballgames,” Hurdle said. “He expressed the same sentiments to me on the way out, that [he’s] going to do everything [he] can to help us win ballgames, and work to have a starting opportunity if that presents itself. He was completely professional.”
With that decision made, the Pirates are down to three decisions remaining in camp: the final bench spot, and two reliever spots, assuming Jared Hughes opens the season on the disabled list.