BRADENTON, Fla. – Juan Nicasio threw six innings at Pirate City today, giving up one run on eight hits, with two walks and five strikeouts in the Triple-A game against Toronto. The hit count was high, but a few hits and walks came after Nicasio got three quick outs and had his innings extended to throw more pitches.
“I feel really good, really good today,” Nicasio said. “I’m working with my fastball today. I’m feeling really good.”
With his fastball feeling good, Nicasio said that he put more emphasis on his off-speed pitches a bit today, especially the changeup.
“I was working on my slider. Right now I have a good feeling with my slider,” Nicasio said. “I’m working with my changeup. Today I threw a lot of changeups. Keep on working, be better.”
Out of his 90 pitches today, Nicasio threw 17 sliders, sitting 84-87 MPH early, and 82-84 MPH late. He also had 13 changeups, which were in the 85-86 MPH range. The fastball started off strong early, sitting 92-95 MPH in the first three innings. He dropped to 89-93 MPH in the fourth and fifth, and 88-92 MPH in the sixth, hitting 94 once.
Nicasio would be great as a reliever, as he was hitting 94-95 MPH consistently in the first inning, with a mid-80s slider. But the question has always been whether he could carry his stuff over to the rotation over a longer period of time. The stuff doesn’t hold up in the later innings, but is still good. That means he needs to switch his approach in the later innings.
“It’s not easy when you’re a starting pitcher, because you need to go deep into the game every time,” Nicasio said. “I try pitching for contact, sometimes this inning [throw] 10 pitches only. Try to stay inside, pitching for contact.”
Nicasio said his changeup and slider felt better in the sixth inning, and his fastball command inside and up in the zone felt good at the end.
One focus the Pirates have had with him this year is taking a reliever mentality over to the rotation, and only worrying about one inning at a time. Nicasio has taken that to heart, discussing the philosophy that Ray Searage wants him to take to the mound.
“Yeah, he’s helping me a lot,” Nicasio said. “I think hitter for hitter. Hitter for hitter, one pitch at a time all the time. I’m not thinking of being a starter. My mentality is hitter for hitter, pitch for pitch, one inning for one inning. That’s my mentality: One inning at a time.”
Six innings and close to 100 pitches is the goal for the Pirates before a starter is ready for the season. Nicasio said that he doesn’t know what is next for him, in terms of another start, or a few bullpen sessions. He also doesn’t know yet what his role would be with the team.
“I don’t know. They haven’t told me nothing. I don’t know,” Nicasio said. “I’ll be ready for both, for relieving, for starting. I’ll be ready for both. Right now, my arm is feeling really good and I’ll be ready to help the team win.”
Right now, it’s hard to deny that Nicasio looks like one of the best five starters on this team, not just based off results, but based off the stuff. The Pirates have an open competition for the final two rotation spots, and at this point, I’d say that they should be having Ryan Vogelsong and Jeff Locke battling for that final spot. Whether that actually happens will be seen this week, but right now, Nicasio looks like a guy who should be in the rotation.
**David Freese was getting at-bats today at Pirate City, and went 3-for-5.
**I didn’t see much of the Double-A game, but did notice Jin-De Jhang and Erich Weiss hit home runs. Luis Heredia also came on and threw an inning in relief, sitting 93-95 MPH. He walked a batter, but didn’t give up any runs, while getting a strikeout and two ground ball outs. Wilfredo Boscan pitched four innings. It wouldn’t be a surprise at this point to see him in the rotation, or at least in a long relief role, piggybacking if the Pirates want to shorten the innings for Jameson Taillon early in the year.