Changes for Nolasco in '05

A year ago on June 28, Ricky Nolasco was making his ninth and final start of the year for Triple-A Iowa--a stint that concluded with a 9.30 ERA and an average of less than four and a half innings per start. This year on June 28, however, the fourth round Cubs draft pick in 2001 was named to the Southern League all-star team following a perfect record in the first half and the league's second best ERA.

"It's always a great honor to be nominated to the all-star team," said Nolasco, 7-0 with a 2.89 ERA in 15 starts at Double-A West Tenn this season. "I thought I had put together enough quality starts to make the team, so it's just a great honor. I just want to continue doing good."

The biggest difference in Nolasco this year as opposed to a season ago is the polishing of his changeup pitch. It's a pitch Nolasco has not always been able to rely on.

But this year, he says that has all changed.

"I've really learned how to throw it," the 22-year-old said. "I've been real comfortable throwing it for strikes and, for the first time in my career, just trusting it. It's been paying off. Over the years, my pitching coaches have always told me how much it would help me out once I learned it. I'm just going out and throwing all four of my pitches. It feels good when you don't lose."

Generally speaking this season, the Jaxx don't lose, either. The team was first-half champions of the league's northern division and have played .500 ball (6-6) since the second half began.

"I've been really fortunate, because my team has picked me up a few times when I was trailing," Nolasco said. "It evens out, because there have also been times when the bullpen blew my lead, so it all evens out for me."

As previously noted, Nolasco currently ranks second in the league in ERA. The only person he trails in that department? Left-hander Carmen Pignatiello, Nolasco's off-and-on teammate since the start of the 2003 season at Class-A Daytona. Pignatiello, who is the same age as Nolasco, was 5-4 at West Tenn with a 2.64 ERA in 80-plus innings before being promoted to Iowa recently.

Since being sent back to Double-A following his Iowa tenure a year ago, Nolasco has won 12 starts while losing only three. He was slightly disappointed not to begin this season back at Iowa, but knows the call up to Des Moines is well within reach; especially considering two former Jaxx starters – Pignatiello and left-hander Rich Hill – have also tasted the Triple-A fruit this year.

"I try not to think about it," admits Nolasco. "(Hill and Pignatiello) are both really good friends of mine; pretty much my best friends in the organization. I can only control what I do, and that's to keep going out there and throwing the ball like I have been; just show them I can pitch here. I still keep in touch with those guys, and I hope they do well."

For his part, Nolasco leads the Southern League in strikeouts with 97. Despite a 7-0 record, the Rialto, Calif., native has had seven no-decisions in his last eight starts. In four of those starts, he has allowed two earned runs or fewer.

"Our hitters were going through a tough time," Nolasco said. "I certainly wasn't complaining early on in the season when they were knocking in nine runs a game, but as long as I put my team in a good position to win, I'm doing my job. Even if I don't win and the team does, I'm doing my job. That's all I need to do."

Nolasco was one of three Jaxx pitchers named to this year's all-star game in Mobile (Ala.) on July 13. For now, he will join fellow right-hander Andrew Shipman in just over a week when the festivities begin. (Right-hander Talley Haines was also chosen, but was promoted to Triple-A recently.)

"It feels good," added Nolasco. "I've been working extra hard this season. The biggest difference from this year and last year again, though, is that changeup. It compliments my fastball and makes it look even harder. I just want to continue what I'm doing."

Nolasco turns 23 in December. His brother, Dave, was a 23rd round draft pick in 2001 by the Milwaukee Brewers. Nolasco also has a brother-in-law currently stationed in Iraq.

Happy Fourth of July.

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