Nickerson's Season a Tale of Two Halves

It has been a tale of two seasons for West Michigan starting pitcher Jonah Nickerson in 2007. The seventh-round draft pick from 2006 and former Oregon State star started the year with an average April before taking a downturn in May.

In six starts that month he compiled a 7.67 ERA, allowing 27 earned runs in 31 2/3 innings pitched. Nickerson hit his lowest point of the season on the final day of that month, as he lasted only 1 2/3 innings in a May 31 outing at Lansing, giving up 10 earned runs on eight hits and three walks.

But as the month of May passed, Nickerson's problems seemed to pass with them. He allowed only one earned run in his next start, a June 5 win over Fort Wayne in which he went 6 2/3 innings. He went 2-1 with 3.51 ERA for June, and brought the earned runs down to 10. And as June turned to July, Nickerson's improvements turned to shear dominance.

In five starts that month, he went 4-0 with a miniscule 1.09 ERA, allowing only four earned runs. The month was book-ended by a pair of shut out efforts. He threw a seven inning, three-hit outing on July 5 against Fort Wayne and a complete game, two-hit gem against Cedar Rapids on July 28.

Nickerson has continued his dominance into August, allowing only three earned runs so far, which came in his last outing on Aug. 14. Nickerson still went nine innings in that game, striking out nine. In both his Aug. 2 and 8 outings, he went seven innings with only three hits. That marked three straight games in which he did not allow an earned run. He went 26 scoreless innings before allowing a home run in the third inning Aug. 14.

Nickerson contributes his second half success to gaining the right mentality in not being afraid to go after hitters, something that has been taught to him by West Michigan pitching coach Ray Burris. That aggressiveness has allowed him to keep his pitch counts down and stay in games longer.

"I didn't have anywhere to go but up from the first half, so it's nice to just start off fresh after the all-star break," Nickerson said. "I've been working on finishing my pitches, being aggressive, being more physical and things like balance and holding runners.

"I've been trying to incorporate little things each outing, try to get better each time I go out there."

Jonah's current ERA is 3.60. Take away that rough outing at Lansing, and his ERA is 3.00. That game seemed to serve as the turning point in his season and in his young career. It would appear that Nickerson took something away from that game that aided in his improvement, but he does not look that deep into it.

"I wouldn't say it really taught me anything," Nickerson said. I try not to think about it too much, it's something I try to flush.

"I just went through that game knowing things like that are going to happen. Like I said, I couldn't go anywhere but up from that outing. I'm just trying to get back to the basic things that got me to where I'm at now. Earlier in the year I was trying to do too much and be too fine."

Burris has watched first hand this season as Nickerson has become more confident in his pitches, an attitude that he sees will carry Jonah through the Minor League ranks.

"He's worked very hard at understanding what his delivery needs to be," Burris said. "He's worked hard at understanding what he needs to do to get his career in a position to where when he goes up to higher levels, he can compete and do the job he is doing here."

Nickerson will have a couple more outings this season in which to continue to work on the little things to improve each outing. He is looking to stay healthy and finish strong.

"It's not really how you start the year, it's how you finish, and that's how people are going to look at your season."

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