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.

Other Notes

**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.

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33 COMMENTS

  1. I say tag team Nicasio/Lobstein as the #3 and tag team Locke/Vogelsong as the #5. Starter sees no more than 18 outs or 75 pitches, whichever comes first. Second pitcher goes no more than nine outs or 36 pitches. They alternate roles every other start.

  2. Nicasio is my last-round flier for my fantasy baseball league. I take one every year, and I’m hoping he works out for me.

    Incidentally, I ended up with Ben Revere while autodraft was picking for me because I didn’t get home in time for the start. I can’t stand Ben Revere.

  3. I am personally very troubled by the steep drop in velocity after 4-5 innings. To me, this makes him a strong candidate for the bullpen. Let’s not pencil him in as a good starting option just because the other two suck.

  4. I just heard that Hughes will open the year on the DL. That opens a spot but scrambles the mix on your middle inning relievers. Not a surprise either.

  5. I think you have to worry about his ability to turn the order over, looking back at his Rockies’ days it was a bit of an issue, and fastball/slider or any two pitch starters typically struggle 2nd/3rd time through. His change up wasn’t very good when used.

    Then again all pitchers trying to make the 5th spot in the rotation have issues you can worry about.

  6. With Liriano, Nicasio and Locke/Vogelsong in the rotation, that bullpen is going to get a workout…might be time to put in a call and see if Frank Tanana wants a shot as an innings eater.

  7. I wonder if this will be like 2013. We went into the season with an ex-Giants pitcher (Jonathon Sanchez instead of Vogelsong) and a shaky Locke as our 4th/5th starters. When Sanchez didn’t work out about a month into the season, we released him and moved a reliever into his spot (Jeanmar Gomez instead of Nicasio). And then when the cavalry was ready (Cole/Liriano instead of Taillon/Glasnow), we moved Gomez back to the pen.
    I actually prefer this plan because
    – Nicasio is a good reliever
    – There are no guarantees that either Vogelsong or Locke will be a good reliever
    – You can’t release Locke/Vogelsong at this point because we wouldn’t have a back up if Nicasio fails
    – I think both Vogelsong and Locke are experienced fighters and can make it through April giving us at least a 50/50 shot of winning (read 4.50 ERAs)
    – After April if Vogelsong is struggling, release him and replace with Nicasio
    – After AprIl if Locke is struggling, move him to the pen and replace with either Nicasio or Lobstein until the AAA are ready.

  8. Jeff Locke could be the 2nd left hander in the bullpen. Let’s also not rule out a last minute trade or pick up during the last week of camp.

  9. It does seem like Nicasio deserves the chance. He can be a difference maker even if he can only go 5-6 innings. Vogelsong is a proven mediocrity, can be a swing man and can always take over the rotation spot if Nicasio flames out. I’d reluctantly leave Locke in for now.

    • I agree, three guys had the same opportunity and the best two should be in the Rotation. He is the hot pitcher right now and is most deserving. Depending upon how things go for Cole, they may all be making the Rotation anyway.

      With 25 games already in the book in ST the Pirates have scored 3 runs or less in 16 of those games and have a record of 2-13-1 in those 16 games.

    • That’s all they need from nicasio, 5-6 ip and a 3.75 era and you have as good of a #5 as anyone else will probably have…get you to your great pen and scratch out a .525 winning percentage when your #5 starts and be very happy…until taillon/Glasgow show up. I do think having a 2 inning lefty like Locke in the pen would be a nice advantage too if it all works out.

      • Also, it’s easy to get excited about nicasio and the searage factor but he did have a 1.500+ whip last year…still, he was effective despite all the baserunners so if searage can get him to reduce walks by 20% he might be a huge story.

  10. Not a good situation. Unfortunately it seems nicasios stuff will really weaken
    After 65 pitches. And we are losing one of our best bullpen arms in the process.

    • Just think about how Happ was handle last season, he was pulled with a low pitch count in most of the games he pitched, I guess the key will be Feliz and Hughes handling the 6-7 inning.

      • Yes that plan woukd be better if we had someone like nicasio in pen to work 6th and 7th. I have little faith in hughes right now. Don’t forget reason plan with happ worked so well was largely on part that blanton/Bastardo/soria were so good in middle innings. Nicasio was supposed to be replacing some of that.

        I think pen is considerably weaker with out nicasio in it. He could be real weapon there but we are forced to rob peter to pay paul because we though vogelsong was realistic option as a starter.

        • I dont know why people ignore Vogelsong in this situation.

          We could really use a guy able to bridge the 5th and 6th inning if/when Nicasio gets less effective? Where would we find a flawed SP who might cover 2 innings and be more effective due to shorter outings? Vogelsong.

          Even last year in relief work the K rate was better. He cuts some of the BB issues he saw in relief last year and he’s a fine long relief guy able to bridge the gap for 2 innings until 7-8-9 guys. Nicasio would be good in the pen, but Vogelsong can cover the Blanton role.

          • Vogelsong may fill the role but strongly doubt he fills it as successfully as blanton did with a fip near 2. Vogelsimg was around 3.3 fip with an era 2 points higher, maybe bad luck who knows. Blantons slider played really well in relief. Not sure one should expect vogelsongs curve to play as well to compliment his fastball as Blantons slider complimented his fastball

            • Even if he isnt Blanton level, but he’s clearly capable.

              K rate that is useful when in relief, offspeed stuff that can be used effectively, and velocity that plays up in shorter stints.

        • Hughes is a machine at this point. He has been the same for 4 years. A better infield defense bodes even better for a guy like him. Hughes hasn’t varied more than .15 in fip in either direction for 4 years. He is a 3.80 fip guy and hopefully slightly better without walker or Pedro behind him. That’s a solid guy for the 6th or 7th. It’s not exciting but he is pretty effective.

          • Same could’ve been said for Jim Johnson, no?

            These extreme GB/low K guys seem to have a shelf life. Extremely fine line between good and worthless.

            • I hear you NMR…question is, how do you know when to give up or keep riding it out? I do like that hughes is a vet who loves to get the ball in the middle of some s@#t.

              • Beats me!

                I think I’d hedge my bets by having a more “conventional” strikeout reliever in leverage situations, but that’s a lot easier said than done.

                • Looks like Hughes will make decision on his own for now with the injury. Someone else will get a tryout.

  11. One of the few bright spots of the Spring, as far as the pitching staff is concerned. Melancon, Feliz, and Nicaso – has any other Pirates pitcher performed well this Spring? I’m not worried about Cole, Liriano, and Watson – but the rest of the rotation and staff looks bad.

  12. Sucks that Nicasio’s stuff doesn’t hold as he gets later into a game, but this is normal for a starter–although some elite starters seem to get better as the game goes on. Based on his stuff, his upside, and his results you really would think he’s earned his spot in the rotation

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