Juan Nicasio turns a dominant spring into a rotation spot with the Pirates
The 29-year-old right-hander earned a starting job, which means Ryan Vogelsong will start the season in the bullpen.
When the Pirates signed right-hander Juan Nicasio to one-year, $3 million deal, they were getting a 29-year-old who lacked a consistent third pitch and who was saddled with a career ERA of 5.12 as a starter. Pitching coach Ray Searage is a worker of baseball miracles, yes, but could he make a rotation fixture out of a retread like Nicasio?
So far, the answer is yes. Nicasio absolutely dominated this spring: 15 IP, 0.00 ERA, 5 G, 4 GS, 24 K, and now, as MLB.com's Adam Berry reports, he's been named a member of the Pirates rotation to start the season. Barring any changes, he'll start the third game of the season against the Cardinals. Nicasio's starting detail means that Ryan Vogelsong will open 2016 in the Pittsburgh bullpen.
But back to Nicasio. The Pirates are an extremely heady organization, so they're not giving Nicasio such a vital job based solely on his spring numbers. They're seeing that he's still got top-shelf fastball velocity and a wipeout slider, and he's been working on improving his changeup, which is the platoon-buster he'll likely need long-term.
Searage, of course, has helped revive the careers of hurlers like A.J. Burnett, Edinson Volquez, J.A. Happ, and Francisco Liriano, among others. Those, however, were fallen starters who rediscovered effectiveness on Searage's watch. Nicasio, though, is a guy never found himself as a starter with the Rockies. So if this works out, then it may be an impressive act of alchemy even by Searage's lofty standards.
Let's not make this all about the pitching coach, though. It takes a player humble and adaptable enough to know he needs to change, and it takes a pitcher willing to implement the new approach. Kudos to Nicasio for, so far, being exactly those things.
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