RC Interview with Chris Nicoll

Chris Nicoll's craftiness and advanced feel for pitching has drawn raves from scouts in and out of the Royals' organization, and he's putting together an outstanding sophomore season after being selected with the Royals' third round pick in 2005. In 112 innings pitched this year, Nicoll (2.65 ERA) has allowed just 85 hits and 31 walks (1.04 WHIP) while striking out a team-leading 108 batters.

Nicoll picked up a no decision in 4-2 loss on Thursday night to the Beloit Snappers. He threw six solid innings, allowing five hits, a walk, and two earned runs while striking out four. After the game, Nicoll sat down for a chat with RC:

Royals Corner: Chris, how do you feel about the game [Thursday night]? Did you have command of all of your pitches?

Chris Nicoll: No I didn't. It wasn't my best game, as far as fastball command. I'm working on a new thing right now. I just moved over to the right side of the rubber. I pitched on the left side of the rubber for basically my whole life, and I'm trying to get some more depth on my breaking balls by moving over there to be tougher on right handed hitters. It's a little bit of an adjustment, because I've been over on the left side of the rubber for a long time. It's just going to take some reps to get my fastball command down. That was the first time I've been all the way over on the right. It wasn't my best game, as far as command, but I only walked one guy, so it was OK and I was happy with the results considering I was working on something.

RC: Was moving over to the right side of the mound something that [pitching coach] Steve Luebber wanted to do, or was it a directive from higher up the chain?

CN: Yeah, Luebber does, and our pitching instructor sees some benefit in it too. I think it's become an organizational policy. Well, maybe not…I'm not sure, but for me they think that it will benefit my game. As of now, it's just coming from my pitching coach and my pitching instructor.

Nicoll was pitching from the right side of the mound for the first time on Thursday night

RC: Could you tell us a little bit about your pitches? What's your repertoire, and what speeds do you generally work at?

CN: I throw fastball, curveball, slider, and change. I think the curveball is anywhere between 71-74. The change-up is 78-80. Fastball is 88-91, somewhere in there, and my slider is low 80s. I throw those four pitches, and I like to be able to throw them at any time in any count, and that's kind of what I need to do to be successful.

RC: Which one would you consider your out pitch? Do you have any one that you think is ahead of the others?

CN: No, that's really what we're trying to do by moving over to the right side of the rubber. We want to create an out pitch with one of my breaking balls. But as of now, I don't really have an "out pitch." I have to say my fastball is my best pitch right now, but as I move up I'm probably going to need something else as an out pitch, and that's why I'm moving over there. Right now, I just use all four pitches to complement each other.

RC: We've read a lot about your craftiness on the mound and your ability to adjust. Could you tell us a little bit about your pitching approach?

CN: Yeah, like I was saying, I have to use all four pitches at any given time to be successful. I also have been told that my fastball has a little sneakiness on it – that I hide it well and it jumps on the hitters a little more than they expect it to, so it plays more like a harder fastball than it actually is. I like to be able to locate that. Locating the fastball is the most important thing, so I can move in and out and go up and down, especially if my curveball is working good. That adjusts the eye level of the hitter. They'll see the curveball up, but it drops down, and then I can throw a fastball that stays up, and hopefully they'll swing through it. I can go in and out with my slider too. I throw a fastball away and get their eyes going out there, and then throw a slider away and hope they chase it. It's stuff like that. I've got to work in and out and up and down, and I have to be crafty. I don't throw 95, so it's all about hitting spots and mixing up speeds.

RC: Can you take us through your preparation for a game? Before tonight, for instance, do you sit down and look over scouting reports, and what do you do to prepare yourself for each start?

CN: Oh yeah, we definitely look at the lineup I'll be facing. And we do the charting the game before here in the minor leagues. That's nice – you can be up in the stands behind home plate and get to see a better view of how the hitters are reacting to different pitches. My pitching coach and I go over the lineup every night before I pitch so I have a better idea of what to expect.

Nicoll and pitching coach Steve Luebber (background) go over the opposing lineup prior to each start

RC: Is there anything in particular that the Royals want you to improve on before you move up? Is it getting that out pitch, or are there other things as well?

CN: Yeah, I think they do want me to develop an out pitch, and there's always room for improvement on everything. They also want me to more consistently establish fastballs down in the zone early. They know I still like to sneak fastballs up, and that's fine, but sometimes I get in a tendency where I'm leaving the ball up too much too often, and they want me to work down and get ground balls while being more pitch efficient. Especially in this league, I'm throwing a little too many pitches per game, and they want me to get that down and pitch lower in the zone and develop an out pitch. I think that's pretty much what they're expecting right now.

RC: Do you have any goals for the remainder of the season? What do you want to accomplish this year?

CN: Right now, it's all about becoming more comfortable with this new adjustment I've just made. My goal right now is just to become comfortable with that.

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