Justin Nicolino may have been late to the party in terms of challenging for the Miami Marlins’ fifth spot in the rotation, but that does not mean he isn’t making a strong case to win the job outright.
Nicolino has some competition, working with and against Jose Urena and Adam Conley, but the way he has been pitching of late, fans may not want to bet against him.
Nicolino spent the 2016 season between Triple-A New Orleans and south Florida, filling in as a spot starter due to injuries and lack of a solid fifth man in the rotation. He has used the Grapefruit League as a statement period – making it known he has no intentions of being sent to New Orleans for the start of the season.
Nicolino continued to make his case for the club's fifth starter role with another stellar outing on Saturday at Roger Dean Stadium. In the Marlins' 1-0 win over the Cardinals, Nicolino threw five innings of shutout ball, giving up just three hits. He struck out three and walked one during his 71-pitch stint (49 strikes).
Making just his third start of the spring and sixth appearance overall, Nicolino did not allow more than one baserunner in any of his five innings of work. He has not allowed more than one run in any of his last five appearances, which includes three starts.
If anything, Nicolino’s impressive stretch has given manager Don Mattingly pause in making a tough decision even harder. He has at least won the right to move to the bullpen to begin 2017.
"For me, every day is a new opportunity," said Nicolino, who said he has seen definite improvement this spring. "That's been my mindset since I've shown up, do whatever I've got to do and make it tough on them. The beginning of Spring Training was a little shaky. We were working some things out.”
The Toronto Blue Jays selected Nicolino in the second round of the 2010 Draft, with the 80th overall selection. He signed with the Blue Jays for a reported $615,000 signing bonus, rather than enroll at the University of Virginia. On November 19, 2012, the Blue Jays traded Nicolino, Adeiny Hechavarria, Henderson Alvarez, Yunel Escobar, Jeff Mathis, Anthony DeSclafani, and Jake Marisnick to the Miami Marlins in exchange for Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, José Reyes, John Buck, and Emilio Bonifacio.