Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Juan Nicasio makes his case for the bullpen in Colorado Rockies loss in Boston

The Rockies have to act quick if they want to contend. 
The Colorado Rockies cannot afford to have Juan Nicasio continue to search for his stuff on the mound.

There are times when a pitcher doesn't have it. A bad night at the office, a bad game. Everyone is allowed those bad days. Every team is going to have games when their starting pitcher simply doesn't show up. Teams that have postseason aspirations, however, cannot afford to allow one starting pitcher to continue down that path time and time again.

The Rockies were shelled on Tuesday night, dropping the first game of a two-game mini series in Boston 11-4. They were doomed from the outset, Nicasio couldn't finish off batters and the Rockies couldn't dig out of a hole that continued to get deeper.

Everyone is a Juan Nicasio fan. There isn't a person who isn't rooting for the guy who nearly died on the mound and had the courage to return less than a year later to succeed. However, this is big league baseball. This is a Rockies team that is in the thick of a race two weeks before the All-Star break and continues to sacrifice games every fifth day.

Ask anyone who has watched more than two of Nicasio's starts in 2013 and they can tell you what his issue is. He lacks an out pitch. Most say that he needs another pitch, he currently only has two pitches, a fastball and a slider. However, he could survive with two pitches if he could locate them. The casual observer would notice that batters foul off a bunch of pitches against Nicasio, raising his pitch count. The story behind the foul balls is that Nicasio lacks a pitch that a batter doesn't feel confident that he won't be able to make contact with. Therefore, the batter fouls off pitches until he either gets walked, or gets a pitch that he can crush.

On Tuesday, Nicasio wallowed his way through 2-1/3 disgusting innings. The Red Sox followed the game plan perfectly, foul off pitches until Nicasio puts one where it can be crushed. The Sox scored two in the first, then, after two quick outs hit back-to-back doubles, followed by back-to-back singles, and scored three total runs. The Rockies right-hander had nothing.

After a brutal 2nd inning, it was slightly shocking to see Nicasio head back to the mound and take the ball for the 3rd inning. The Rockies had been beat up, but they were only down by four runs. With seven more chances at the plate, the game was far from over. However, manager Walt Weiss kept the faith and sent him back to the mound.

It was a futile move, he had to go get him after the righty recorded just one out and four straight singles, extending the Red Sox lead from 5-1 to 7-1. Nicasio's night, and the Rockies night, were done at that point. All that was left was to play out the string of innings and hope for better on Wednesday.

Zach Fogg of Mile High Sports, an extremely knowledgeable baseball mind, posted on Twitter, then later brought it up again on his 10 pm radio show that Weiss conceded the game by allowing Nicasio to go to the mound in the 3rd inning. The Rockies were just four runs down and very much still in the game. Once the additional two runs were added, Colorado was done.

His point echoed what many were thinking. On WEEI, the Boston radio broadcast, Dave O'Brien and Joe Castiglione, the play-by-play and color broadcasters for the Red Sox, were both shocked that not only was Nicasio still in the game, but that Weiss didn't have anyone warming up in the bullpen until Adam Ottavino finally started getting loose in the 3rd.

The point is valid, the Rockies were in the game. The Rockies could have stopped the bleeding and crawled back into the game. However, there is a problem in removing Nicasio at that early stage in the game. The issue is that this isn't a one-off situation where the righty didn't have his stuff. He, and a few other guilty starters, have gone far too short in their starts in the past six weeks. What it has done is successfully blown out the bullpen.

Rafael Betancourt and Edgmer Escalona are both already hurt, Matt Belisle has suddenly shown the wear and tear of leading the league in relief innings over the past three years and Ottavino can only go so many innings. With the options of Josh Outman, Rob Scahill or Manny Corpas to eat a bunch of innings, Weiss frankly didn't have any better choices.

That isn't the managers fault. He has to be honest and look down to the pen and realize that the best chance of his team winning is for his starter to get through at least four innings. When that couldn't happen, the Rockies were done either way.

The blame doesn't stop with the starting pitchers not going deep into games. The buck stops at the front office. While it hasn't been a huge talking point like the 75-pitch limit that was instituted a year ago was, the Rockies are still babying their starting pitching. Only twice all season long has a starter thrown more than 100 pitches. The results of that are simple, even one bad inning means the starter goes only five innings. That sixth inning is another inning that has to be tacked on to a bullpen. That is fine until two of the main cogs of that pen go down with injury.

At that point, there is nothing that can be done except to cross fingers and hope for the best.

The reality is, the time has come to fix the issue. If Nicasio can't last more than five innings anyway, and he only has two pitches, he doesn't belong in the rotation. With a pitcher who was the 5th overall draft pick three years ago with an 8-1 record and who has had two great outings back-to-back in Triple-A, the answer is easy.

If the Rockies want to win, the time is now. They must move Nicasio to a bullpen role and call up Drew Pomeranz. Throw out the Pomeranz Colorado Springs numbers. At some point, the organization must look at this kid in the eyes and tell him that they believe in him and that he needs to come up to the big leagues and focus on throwing his game and throwing strikes. Sometimes that is the challenge a guy like Pomeranz needs to take the next step. His talent is good enough to make him decent at the big league level, if he focuses, he could be very good.

With Pomeranz in the rotation, Nicasio can be a middle relief guy, who doesn't need more than two pitches. He can rare back and throw the fastball as hard as he wants because he will only be out there for an inning. At that point, his slider becomes more dominant and the Rockies have someone who can get outs and bridge the gap to the back-half of the bullpen.

The Rockies may be in a situation where they expected to be good, but they may never have guessed that they could be talking about a playoff run at this point in the year. They may have to jump up a few steps in their grand plan and get the ball rolling. That is uncomfortable for an organization that spends as much time long-term planning as the Rockies do.

However, at some point, the Rockies have to wing it and take a chance. If they don't, they will slide back into four place in the National League West and wait for another year to go by.

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  1. Pomeranz is ready.
    Next move to save the season.
    Kill the weak 1st base tandem of Pacheco/Helton.
    Weak offensively, limited range, can't run.
    With power at first and another decent starter, the team will be able to compete.
    If owners/management do not change the 1st base situation team will continue to suffer offensively and chemistry will sour.

  2. looking at 06/26th wednesday lineup........
    Helton batting fifth makes no sense.
    Even eighth or ninth is arguably a team negative.

    Loyalty to a fault will kill this season.