Juan Nicasio struck out 10 batters in Wednesday’s spring training game

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Juan Nicasio isn’t exactly a household name. He struggled out of the rotation with the Rockies from 2011-13, and then they moved him to the bullpen midway through the 2014 season. The Dodgers picked him up in a trade that offseason. Nicasio put up some decent numbers — a 3.86 ERA with 65 strikeouts and 32 walks in 58 1/3 innings. Good, but given his history, he’s not someone you’d trust with high-leverage innings.

The Pirates brought on some new reclamation projects this offseason and Nicasio was one of them. He was to work under pitching coach Ray Searage along with Ryan Vogelsong. Searage, as we have noted here several times, has made some tangible changes to pitchers most others had already given up on, like J.A. Happ and Edinson Volquez. They come into Pittsburgh dented and scraped; they leave with a fresh coat of paint and a new engine, so to speak. Specifically, Searage simply had Nicasio focus on keeping his fastball low in the strike zone, per this report from Dan Zangrilli of CBS Pittsburgh last month.

All this is to justify pointing out that Nicasio struck out 10 batters in four innings of work in Wednesday’s spring training start against the Orioles, a game which the Pirates ended up losing 9-3. Yes, it’s spring training and no, it doesn’t matter. But Nicasio now has 10 innings under his belt and has yet to allow a run on five hits and three walks with 16 strikeouts.

I’m not suggesting that Nicasio is primed for a breakout year based on 10 spring innings. I would, however, eagerly drink a glass of Kool-Aid if Searage were to offer one to me.

Blue Jays clinch playoff berth with Orioles’ loss to Red Sox

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TORONTO — The Blue Jays clinched a postseason berth Thursday without taking the field.

Toronto was assured of an AL wild card berth when the Boston Red Sox beat the Baltimore Orioles 5-3.

If Toronto holds its current position as the first of the AL’s three wild cards, the Blue Jays would open a best-of-three wild-card series at Rogers Centre next week.

“These guys are excited to be in this position,” Blue Jays manager John Schneider said after Wednesday’s 8-3 loss to the New York Yankees. “You’ve got three really good pitchers lined up against a good Boston team, playing at home. So I think it’s more excitement more than it’s nerves or anything. I think the guys are going to come out and be ready to roll on Friday night.”

Toronto became the fourth AL team to clinch a playoff berth, joining division champions Houston, the Yankees and Cleveland. The Astros and Yankees have first-round byes.

The Blue Jays last went to the playoffs in 2020, when they were knocked out with two straight losses to Tampa Bay.

Eight of the 12 berths in the expanded postseason have been clinched: The Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis earned division titles, and Atlanta and the New York Mets are assured no worse the wild cards while still competing to win the NL East. The Dodgers have a first-round bye.