Nicolino has storybook MLB debut

Rookie lefty tosses seven scoreless innings for first victory

Nicolino has storybook MLB debut

CINCINNATI -- You couldn't script an MLB debut much better than what transpired for Marlins lefty Justin Nicolino on Saturday night. The 23-year-old, making an emergency start, kept stringing together scoreless innings in Miami's 5-0 victory over the Reds at Great American Ball Park.

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Everything fell into place for the rookie, who had his parents, fiancee and other relatives on hand. And making the evening even more special, he was matched against his close friend and former teammate, Anthony DeSclafani.

"Everyone wants to come up in their debut and throw up zeroes," Nicolino said. "To go out there and do what I did tonight, against that team, it means a lot to me."

Ranked by MLB.com as Miami's No. 3 prospect, Nicolino has moved through the ranks slowly. He was 4-3 with a 2.87 ERA in 13 starts at Triple-A New Orleans.

On Friday night, he was in Colorado, but when Tom Koehler was scratched due to a stiff neck/upper back, Nicolino was given the start.

The lefty came as advertised -- scattering four hits with two strikeouts and two walks in seven innings.

"It's kind of hard to believe I was in Colorado last night and then in Cincinnati tonight," Nicolino said. "But once I got that first out of the way, it was the same game, and going about it the way I always have."

Adding to Nicolino's comfort factor is Miami went with rookie catcher J.T. Realmuto, who caught the lefty the past few seasons in the Minors.

"That was exactly what I expected out of him," Realmuto said. "It's what he's consistently done throughout his whole career. Tonight, he was as good as I've seen him at any level."

Nicolino is the first Marlins starter in franchise history to throw as many as seven shutout innings in his MLB debut. Josh Beckett didn't allow a run in six innings of his first game. Anibal Sanchez tossed 5 2/3 innings, and Adalberto Mendez tossed six scoreless.

Those are the only Marlins starters ever not to allow a run in a debut.

"He's got a great changeup, and he used that," manager Dan Jennings said. "But he located the fastball. He pitched inside. He made some great pitches with his fastball on the inner half, especially to left-handers. That opened up both sides of the plate for him. He has that composure, and the understanding of how to make pitches. He did that tonight."

As a courtesy, Nicolino called DeSclafani on Saturday morning, giving him the news.

"Once I found out, I wanted to call Disco right away, just because I knew he was starting," Nicolino said. "How much better would that be in your debut, pitching against one of your best friends. I had J.T. behind the plate, and we've worked together the past couple of years. It was just one of those games where everything was working."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.