Credit Nicasio for making improvements

BY LESLIE MONTEIRO

Juan Nicasio throwing on the mound (AP Photo/Barry Gutierrez)

Juan Nicasio throwing on the mound (AP Photo/Barry Gutierrez)

No one figured Juan Nicasio would be in the rotation for extended amount of time after he filled in for Roy Oswalt by making a start against the Dodgers on July 12.

Nicasio used that start as an audition to be the starter the rest of the season, and he made the most of it by pitching a 3-0 shutout against the Dodgers. He used that performance as a springboard to his success in his next few outings, and the rest is history. This is why he has established himself as the fourth starter in the rotation.

Nicasio continued his good run of quality starts by allowing no runs and four hits in six innings in the Rockies’ 6-1 victory over the Giants last night at Coors Field.  He matched his season-high nine strikeouts in that outing.

This is a different pitcher than the one the Rockies saw from Nicasio earlier this year. He knows how to pitch out of jams as he demonstrated in the first inning last night with the bases loaded. His command is much better. He is using secondary pitches such as throwing curveballs, sliders and breaking balls to get hitters out rather than relying solely on the fastball.

His improvement has created confidence for him as a result. It shows when he has a 3.38 ERA in nine starts since his start against the Dodgers.

There’s no question Nicasio can pitch. He’s a battler, and he knows how to throw strikeouts. Those are two important attributes for a starter to be effective.

The problem with Nicasio in the first few months was he never had any secondary pitches to get hitters outs. He relied on the fastball too often, and hitters figured him out. It was a recipe for disaster, and that’s why he struggled to get hitters out when he faced them for the second straight time.

Now, it’s a different story. Hitters don’t know if he is going to throw a fastball or curveball.

The Rockies sent him to Triple-A Colorado Springs several months ago to work on another pitch to get hitters out, and it has paid off for him.

Nicasio was confident he figured out how to throw curveballs, sliders and breaking balls before he made his start against the Dodgers, and he backed it up by getting the Dodgers out by using all of those pitches. From there, the Rockies realized he finally knew how to pitch.

It took a long time for Nicasio to figure it out, but give him credit for finding a way.

This speaks well of his work ethic, and this speaks well about pushing himself to be a better pitcher. There’s no question he has the talent. It’s about how bad he wanted it, and he answered that question by his work in the minors.

Nicasio’s performance should help him solidify a spot in the starting rotation next year. He is good enough to be a fourth starter. He is an innings eater, and he will battle often times than not. The Rockies can do much worse than him.

With his stuff, he is good enough to win 10 games. That’s good for a fourth starter, and it’s something any team would be happy to accept.

The Rockies are happy he figured it out. This lessens the pressure on them to make a trade for a starter this offseason.

The Rockies are in good shape when it comes to their starting rotation in 2014. They have a good starting rotation in Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin, Tyler Chatwood and Nicasio.

It was imperative they developed a rotation this season, so they can build around their rotation for the next few years. It’s hard to make trades when it comes to getting a starter. Even if they do get a starter, there’s no guarantee he would pan out at Coors Field. It takes a special pitcher to pitch at Coors with the altitude.

Free agency is not the answer. If a pitcher is available as a free agent, it means he is not good enough for his previous team to keep.

Winning with castoffs does not work out in the long-term. He could have one good year, and that’s it.

That’s why Nicasio doing well is important for the Rockies moving forward. It changes the Rockies’ plans of what they want to do to improve in the offseason. They can focus on getting hitters rather than finding a starter, which they tried to do with futile results.

Watching Nicasio become a different pitcher has to be up there when it comes to positives in this 2013 Rockies’ campaign.

Anytime a player can improve, it shows how good a team is in developing players.

The Rockies have taken hits for not developing pitchers, but Nicasio’s success should make the organization feel good about themselves.

For Nicasio, he has to feel good about himself for figuring out how to be an effective starter.

It’s safe to say the Rockies found a keeper in Nicasio.

Contact me or follow me on Twitter: @TalkinRockies

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