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.