|Who was the Juan Nicasio that showed up on Friday night?|
The reality is, Nicasio, the same Nicasio that was demoted to Triple-A two weeks ago after posting a 5.31 ERA and just over 81 innings in 16 starts. On Friday night, in a game the Rockies desperately needed if they want to continue to suggest that they are in the race, Nicasio delivered.
The right-hander, who frankly hasn't been the same since he nearly died on the mound, pitched perhaps the best game of his young career.
Whether it was the trip to Colorado Springs that gave him a wake up call, or if it simply allowed him to slow things down, Nicasio used something that he hasn't used throughout his 2013 season, confidence. Instead of dancing around the strike zone, Nicasio attacked it. He didn't look afraid of throwing a pitch over the plate and seeing what happened. It was a whole different Nicasio. On Friday, he walked just one Dodger batter, while giving up only three hits and striking out three.
It can't be said that Nicasio's performance came against a cupcake team, either. The Dodgers are the hottest team in baseball, coming into the game winning 15-of-18 games. They have received good pitching, but their lineup has been in a different stratosphere since Yasiel Puig made his debut in early June.
It is easy to forget a midst the struggles, but this is the pitcher that the Rockies front office sees. The pitcher that dominated the Dodgers on Friday night is the reason why the Rockies took so long to send down to Triple-A for a refresher course.
Nicasio throws in the mid-90's. He has a good slider, but lacks a third pitch. The focus from Nicasio's critics is that he lacks a third pitch, which leads to batter's teeing off on him the third time through the order. They can sit on one pitch and foul off the other until they get one that they can hit.
There is no doubt that Nicasio struggled the third time through the batting order. He had several outings where he was very good through four or five innings before getting lit up as the game progressed. A third pitch certainly would have helped, but the reality is, if he had two pitches that he located well, he still would have been getting outs, instead of batters falling off pitch after pitch after pitch until he finally gave in and grooved one over the plate.
The Rockies have desperately been searching for another solid starting pitcher. They have three guys who have been far better than anyone could have asked them to be. Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin and Tyler Chatwood are the three biggest reasons why the Rockies are even in the conversation when it comes to contending in the National League West.
Nicasio was phenomenal, but anytime Clayton Kershaw is the opposing pitcher and a team pulls off a win, there has to be credit given to the offense. Combining for five of the Rockies seven hits were two guys who represent the Rockies depth. DJ LeMahieu, who has emerged as the best player involved in the Ian Stewart trade, went 3-for-5 with a run scored and a run driven in. When LeMahieu hits the ball, he stings it. The raw talent from this guy is very good. He is big, but can play any infield position and he has plenty of range. At the plate he doesn't look like a guy with less than 500 plate appearances at the big league level.
LeMahieu helped to get the scoring started when he came up with a base hit in the 1st inning. Dexter Fowler led off with a single then stole second base. Fowler did a great job on his part, but with Kershaw on the mound, it is a common occurrence to have a man on second base with no one out fail to score. LeMahieu didn't let Kershaw get comfortable, he singled through the hole at shortstop. Fowler had to stop at third base, but the hit allowed Troy Tulowitzki to drive in the run with a fly ball to center.
Charlie Blackmon also looked far more comfortable against Kershaw than most. He fouled off eight straight pitches in the second inning before sending a double to left field. It was the exact type of at-bat that the Rockies haven't had in recent weeks. He didn't try to do too much. He didn't care that it was Kershaw on the mound, he fouled off pitches until he got the pitch that he could drive, and he took advantage.
Blackmon added another hit in the 7th inning and stole a base. He made several solid plays in right field to help Nicasio.
If Nicasio can continue to be anywhere close to what he was on Friday night, the Rockies will have a chance to win four out of every five nights. If that can happen, the Rockies offense will eventually turn the corner and the team will win their fair share of games down the stretch.
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