|Juan Nicasio had his best start of 2013 on Monday.|
After making a total of 24 starts in his Major League career, and having both of his big league seasons cut short due to injury, Nicasio was asked to be the 4th starter in a rotation that was widely expected to be the worst in the league.
Nicasio had never thrown a pitch at Triple-A, called up from Double-A when Jorge De La Rosa was injured in May of 2011, the Dominican was truly still a project when he was forced to make his Major League debut. His fastball was live, but the off-speed pitches weren't there yet. He was talented enough to make the jump and develop at the big league level.
That thought may have been true. However, everything changed in August of 2011 when Ian Desmond drilled him in the head with a line drive. After amazingly returning less than a year later, things weren't quite the same. His mechanics were slightly different, and as Woody Paige of the Denver Post said, he had to make adjustments because of a lack of mobility in his neck.
Nicasio has battled through a tough season. He was sent to Triple-A before the All-Star Break because of ineffectiveness. He was recalled when Roy Oswalt went down and has looked significantly better than the pitcher that he was before the demotion. With the lone exception being the start in Atlanta, Nicasio has shown to be a valuable member of the rotation. He is doing everything that anyone could possibly ask from a No. 4 starter.
On Monday night against the World Champions, Nicasio may have had his best start of the season. He gave up four hits and walked two in six innings of shutout baseball. He struck out a season-high nine batters. Even with a decent lead, the game doesn't feel secure with Nicasio on the mound because he has a reputation for pitching four or five good innings, then getting blown up once the opposition has seen him twice through the order.
If anyone was waiting for Nicasio to implode in the 5th or 6th inning, Nicasio showed it not to be the case. The 6th inning looked to be headed in a bad direction but Nicasio showed growth. He started the inning by hitting Brandon Belt with a slider, then gave up a base hit to Buster Posey, a guy who doesn't seem to make any outs against the Rockies. With two on and no one out, the recipe was being concocted perfectly for Nicasio to give up a big run and let the Rockies down.
Instead, the righty got two fly ball outs to center field, one of which was just shy of the wall from Pablo Sandoval, but an out none-the-less.
One of the differences for Nicasio on Monday was that he wasn't afraid to throw his off-speed pitches. In Philadelphia five days ago, he threw a total of five off-speed pitches in the entire outing. He mixed things up at Coors Field, keeping the Giants off-balance with his slider and change-up.
The reality for Nicasio is that he doesn't have to have great off-speed pitches, he just has to have them. The key isn't deception as much as it is changing speeds so that the batter's timing is off ever so slightly. If Nicasio can get his off-speed pitches across the plate, he will be a significantly better pitcher than he has been in his career. The pitches don't have to buckle anyone's knees, but they have to be in the back of the batter's mind. At that point, he can use his fastball to get outs.
Nicasio wasn't the only positive on Monday. Rookie Nolan Arenado put three more hits on the board. He continues to grow as a big league baseball player and become someone who looks to be a guy who the Rockies can build around. His confidence speaks volumes about the type of player that he can be. Arenado hasn't been perfect, but in his rookie campaign he has shown signs of being a future All-Star.
The Rockies have some bright stars on their roster, and a couple more in their farm system. What they do with those stars is going to be the answer to how successful they are in the years to come. Will they allow excuses to continue to be a part of who they are, or will they demand excellence? This is a team that the right management group could quickly turn into a winner. Games like Monday night prove that. This team can be better than their record suggests. They have to believe that, and they have to demand it.
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