Spring Roundup: Ricky Nolasco

MESA, Ariz. - Right-hander Ricky Nolasco turned 22 in the offseason after making 28 starts last year and finishing 6-4 with a 3.70 ERA in 19 outings for Double-A West Tenn. The only drawback was he allowed almost as many earned runs in just less than half the number of starts for Triple-A Iowa in a six week stint from mid-May to late June.

In nine starts at Iowa, Nolasco averaged more than one earned run per inning with 42 in 40 2/3 IP; he allowed only 44 in 107 IP at West Tennessee. Still, despite the rough go of things in Iowa, the southern California native comes to camp in great spirits and with high expectations.

"Things are going pretty good this spring," said Nolasco, who struck out 143 batters between the two upper levels of the Cubs' farm system last year. "The main thing I'm working on right now is building my arm strength and perfecting my changeup for strikes."

The pitch is something fairly new to Nolasco, he admits.

"It's a pitch I've never thrown enough," Nolasco said, "but now that I'm moving up, I've been forced to use it more and more. The organization is really stressing that I throw it more this season. It's coming along all right, though probably not as good as I'd like just yet."

Nolasco considers his fastball and slurve his two out-pitches. Like most everyone else, he spends his time in the offseason doing family related activities with his loved ones.

"They've always believed in me and given me support," said Nolasco. "I go camping a lot and play games with my nephews. I'm also a big fan of the outdoors. Sometimes I just like to get away."

Nolasco says he goes to a local gym at least four times a week during the offseason and actively participates in a regular running program to stay in shape and keep fresh. He also has a brother-in-law stationed in Iraq.

"Growing up, I knew who he was," Nolasco said of Sgt. Robert T. Jamison, who is stationed with the First Cavalry of the 21st Field Artillery Regiment. "We didn't talk all that much until a few years before he and my sister were married. We have a good relationship now. He's a smart guy who was at our house all the time before he left to join the service. He had a good relationship with my parents and I've stayed in contact with him since he left for Iraq."

Nolasco said he recently spoke with Jamison, who is planning to drop by Mesa on his way back to California. Whenever the two get together, they play catch, Jamison said.

A funny story that both Nolasco and Jamison often share happened years ago when the two were playing Little League ball in Rialto, where Nolasco went to high school and now resides. The sergeant recalled a game when, playing as a center fielder, Nolasco hit a home run over the center field wall of an adjacent field on the same lot. The home run struck Jamison in the back.

"I never knew it happened until he told me," Nolasco said. "I laugh about it and he always brings it up when we get together."

The sergeant also recalled batting against Nolasco as a senior in high school. He said Nolasco was a sophomore at the time, and struck him out on four pitches.

Nolasco hopes to factor into an Iowa rotation that already projects to host top pitching prospects Angel Guzman, Renyel Pinto and perhaps Bobby Brownlie this year. Nolasco was a fourth round draft pick out of high school in 2001 and is a career 27-14 pitcher with a 3.62 ERA in 73 starts. He won a career-high 11 games with Class-A Daytona in 2003 and finished second in the Northwest League in wins (7) with the Boise Hawks in '02.

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