Rockies witness Nicasio take next step
Emergence of hurler, who's overcome plenty of adversity, would be big boost in 2014
DENVER -- Amid all the hoopla of the Rockies' home opener against the D-backs at Coors Field on Friday afternoon, Colorado manager Walt Weiss took the cautious approach.
"We have to look at the season in its entirety," Weiss said before the game. "It doesn't mean I won't enjoy what happens, but we put the club together for the long haul, and this is just one of 162 games."
This one, however, wasn't "just one." It has the potential of being a very special one.
And the hope that came out of the Rockies' 12-2 victory against Arizona went way past Charlie Blackmon's six hits, equaling a franchise record that Andres Galarraga set on July 3, 1995.
If what happened is put into the context of what it could mean over the course of 162 games, then it was Juan Nicasio who stepped to center stage. The pitcher not only gave the Rockies that strong starting effort they had not seen in losing three of four at Miami to open the season, but he gave an indication that the wait for his emergence as a solid member of a big league rotation is ending.
"I have been in his corner since Day 1," said pitching coach Jim Wright. "I'm so proud of what he accomplished."
Nicasio worked seven innings for just the fifth time since the 2011 season, the lone blemish a Mark Trumbo home run in the fifth, which cut the Rockies' lead to 6-1. Nicasio walked only one batter, and struck out six.
"I wasn't nervous," he said. "I felt great. I felt comfortable. I could throw my pitches down in the zone, attack the hitter down in the zone."
More than that, he did it with a three-pitch mix, a far cry from the pitcher who a year ago "showed up with a half-pitch, a fastball that he could not command. Now he's showing us three Major League pitches," Wright said.
Nicasio has found the command of that fastball. He has mastered a slider that Wright calls "a plus big league pitch." And he showed "an average" split-fingered changeup, "that he used to get three outs," Wright added.
Finally. A feel-good moment for the Rockies' rotation, which opened the season with two projected starters, Jhoulys Chacin and Tyler Chatwood, on the disabled list, and then saw the four starters who worked in Miami combine to pitch only 20 2/3 innings and give up 16 runs.
To be honest, Weiss had a feeling about Nicasio, which is why he decided to hold him back for the home opener, even if it was the fifth game of the season.
"I thought it was a good fit for Juan," said Weiss. "He has a recent history in this park, and I thought it would be comfortable for him in the opener, as opposed to throwing a new guy out there with all the hoopla."
"I felt comfortable," he said. "It's my house. It's my home here in Denver. I feel comfortable pitching here."
Besides, what's a little hoopla for Nicasio? This is a guy who took a line drive off his forehead that resulted in a fractured neck in 2011, and he was back on the mound in 2012, until he twisted his knee and had to undergo surgery, and then battled his way through 31 starts a year ago despite not having a complete arsenal of pitches.
That is why Wright is so proud of what he watched Nicasio do against the D-backs, who had gotten to him for 17 runs in only 19 innings in the five previous starts he made against Arizona.
"He went out and pitched a full season last year," said Wright. "He went through the ups and downs of a starting pitcher and dealt with the grind of the season. He struggled to execute, but he put in his time during the winter, and it's paying off know.
"His legs are stronger. He couldn't hold his finish and drop because of that knee last year. He committed himself to taking care of that in the winter. He knew he could be better than that."
And he showed anybody who cared to watch on Friday that he is better than that.
Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.