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Nicolino’s Spring Debut Doesn’t Go Well, But…


March 28, 2013; Jupiter, FL, USA; Miami Marlins starting pitcher Justin Nicolino (34) delivers to the St. Louis Cardinals during the spring training game at Roger Dean Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

Jupiter, FL – Justin Nicolino got pulled after just 49 pitches today at Roger Dean stadium, when the 6’3” lefty couldn’t ring up the third out of his scheduled second of two innings.  Manager Mike Redmond put the hook around his neck after he gave up five runs in 1 2/3 innings.

Facing a college team like FIU and having a crapola outing might be discouraging to Marlins fans looking to see the lefty in a back-of-the-rotation slot, but hope is not lost. The unwritten side of the story often paints a different picture.

After the game, Nicolino wandered out past the covered batting tunnels to the back fields, and had an impromptu conference with several members of the Marlins pitching coaches, including pitching coordinator Wayne Rosenthal (“Rosy”).  It turns out that the outing went just fine, and the five runs weren’t exactly welcome, but they weren’t unexpected, either.

Nicolino was under instructions to stick with fastballs for this outing, and to stay away from his changeup and curve ball.  The intent was to have him focus on location, low-away and high-inside. The problem is, is that when you face a college team that hasn’t graduated to using wood bats, the fastball/aluminum combination is a recipe for ERA damage. Hence, the Redmond trip to the mound partway through the second inning.

The upshot of the back field conference is that Nicolino did his job, and did it well, given the restrictions on pitch choice.  Once the college kids go home, and the team is facing the big-league first innings, Nicolino will get plenty of chances to fool the cold, creaky bats of spring.

It’s interesting to note that the official Marlins recap of the game made no mention of the decision to take away Nicolino’s off-speed pitches.  There was just a casual mention that he was “working mostly off his fastball,” and there was no mention whatsoever of the fact that the Marlins opponents were using aluminum bats.

Excuses are valued on par with free advice. But in this case, I think there are mitigating factors that merit consideration. Nicolino got up and did his job, and now he has a better understanding of the value of his off-speed stuff.