Nolasco Reflects

Florida Marlins pitcher Ricky Nolasco has been in the news this spring with back spasms. Before he began his second season with the Marlins, the right-hander and former Cubs pitching prospect spoke to InsideTheIvy.com about the December, 2005 departure from his former club, and some of his reflections since the trade.

Nolasco was a Cubs pitching prospect from 2001-05. He was traded to the Marlins along with pitchers Sergio Mitre and Renyel Pinto for Juan Pierre, the one-year Cubs leadoff hitter who bolted for free agency (and eventually the Los Angeles Dodgers) about as quickly as he did for second base.

The trade for Pierre made sense. The Cubs needed a leadoff hitter and Pierre had enjoyed the best years of his career with the Marlins.

Florida wanted young pitching and the Cubs (as they often do) more than likely submitted a small list of prospects for Florida to choose from.

Upon joining the Marlins, Nolasco found himself in the team's starting rotation right out of Spring Training. He would make up a powerful young rotation that boasted four rookies with 10 wins or more.

Nolasco himself won 11 games and posted a 4.82 ERA in 140 innings, making 22 starts and 13 relief apperances. That was quite a change of scenery for the 24-year-old, who had previously spent two consecutive years with the Cubs at Double-A and was a 2005 Southern League All-Star.

"I came into Spring Training with high expectations of myself and thankfully I fulfilled them," Nolasco says now, well over a year following the trade that took him straight from a mid-level pitching prospect with the Cubs to a full-fledged big league starter with the Marlins. "Some times, you've got to give up something to get something. I was fine with that as long as someone was giving me an opportunity to play in the big leagues."

And so it was rather fitting that the first victory of Nolasco's major league career came last year at Wrigley Field in the rubber game of a late-April series in which the Marlins bested the Cubs, 7-5. He pitched two innings in relief of fellow rookie Scott Olsen, allowing one hit and striking out four.

Was there anything special about that first win coming at Wrigley, the place Nolasco had strived to one day call home in his tenure as a Cubs prospect?

"It was just a coincidence," Nolasco says, still as convinced of that as he is the fact that he belongs in the young Marlins rotation. "I worked hard for it and it just so happened to fall that way. I'm sure people made a lot of speculation about it and what not, but that's just how it worked out."

Speculation is nothing new to Nolasco, of course. The last several weeks of his rookie season with the Marlins was the epitome of constant rumblings, what with the constant talk of manager Joe Girardi's future with the club following a well-publicized spat with owner Jeffrey Loria in August.

Following his win against the Cubs, there was also speculation from various gunslingers on more than one internet message board who claimed that Nolasco held some form of grudge against the Cubs – either for trading him or for holding him back for a second season at Double-A the previous year.

Those rumors were just that, Nolasco insists.

"It just didn't happen to work out with the Cubs and that's how the business goes," Nolasco said. "But I would never bad-mouth the Cubs about anything. They gave me the opportunity to prove myself. What else can I ask for?"

Nolasco says than when he was first traded, he felt a sense of understanding more than anything else. Like most everyone, Nolasco understood the Cubs were in dire need of a center fielder and leadoff man to replace the once-promising Corey Patterson, who wore out his welcome on the North Side somewhere in between his five-plus years there.

Nolasco's belief is that everything happens for a reason.

"Florida was just an opportunity," he says with the same business-like demeanor he showcased with the Cubs. "When given that opportunity, you open your eyes. I wasn't going to let it pass me by."

Adjusting to the big leagues was tough, but having a manager who constantly reminded young players like Nolasco that they belonged there was part of the battle, and a key motivation factor.

"We were such a young team and that goes a long way," Nolasco said of the Marlins, whose average age was 25 and whose payroll failed to reach $15 million. "I thought Joe was a great manager and a great person to have around. He helped us believe we belonged in the big leagues all year."

The trade that sent Nolasco to Girardi and the Marlins in the first place is now well in the past. What regrets does the young starter have about leaving the Cubs? None at all, it would seem.

"I can't sit here and say the Cubs didn't give me a chance. I'm not going to say that," Nolasco said. "I did whatever I could to get to this level and I opened the eyes of somebody in the Marlins' organization for them to want to trade for me. That's just how things work out."

Nolasco says he still has plenty of friends with the Cubs, but he is choosing to focus on his future with the Marlins; not his past with the Cubs.

He returned to the mound on Saturday, pitching 2 2/3 innings and allowing a run and three hits in the Marlins 5-2 spring loss to the Dodgers. If all goes as planned, he'll break camp as the Marlins No. 4 or 5 starter.

"I'm happy with where I'm at in my career right now, but there's always room for improvement," Nolasco contends. "That's the thing about the big leagues – no matter how long you stay in this game, you've always got to continue to get better. That's something I'm going to continue to try to do."


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