Not focused on destination, Nicolino enjoying path

Soft-tossing lefty throws 4 scoreless, giving Marlins something to think about for rotation race

Not focused on destination, Nicolino enjoying path

JUPITER, Fla. -- Rotation spots are up for grabs, but where Justin Nicolino fits into the Marlins' plans is not the primary concern of the 24-year-old.

Nicolino's main focus is on being prepared and making the decision a tough one for the organization. The left-hander gave the club something else to think about after tossing four shutout innings on Tuesday in the Marlins' 8-6 loss to the Mets at Roger Dean Stadium.

Spotting his fastball, while keeping hitters off stride with his changeup and cutter, Nicolino scattered three hits and struck out two.

The Marlins see Nicolino as a valuable starter. It's just a matter of if he will break camp with the big league club or open the season at Triple-A New Orleans.

Marlins close to announcing top of the rotation

"Everyone wants to be on the 25-man roster," Nicolino said. "But the biggest thing is just going out and doing what you're asked to do every five days. Don't worry about it. You can't control it. All you can do is control every pitch and everything you do that day. That's the approach I'm trying to take. Enjoy everything that I do. Enjoy being around these guys, and let all the other stuff happen on its own."

Nicolino gained big league experience in 2015, making 12 starts and going 5-4 with a 4.01 ERA in 74 innings.

"I thought Nico was good," Miami manager Don Mattingly said. "He's a guy who has to pitch differently. He's not going to overpower anybody, but he's a guy who understands who he is. He uses his weapons the best that he can."

At a time the sport has an influx of power arms, Nicolino relies on smarts instead of velocity. His fastball was clocked between 87-89 mph. But he wasn't hit hard. His cut fastball was a weapon in getting soft ground balls.

Nicolino's outing differed from his New York counterpart, hard-throwing right-hander Noah Syndergaard, who had his fastball clocked between 97-99 mph.

"That's not my game," Nicolino said. "It's funny, because you see a guy throwing 100, and me coming in, just trying to spot up and go in and out."

In terms of style, Nicolino and Syndergaard are complete opposites. One is finesse to the other's power. But they are close friends who both came up through the Blue Jays' system. In fact, they were selected in the same Draft. Syndergaard was Toronto's sandwich first-round pick in 2010, and Nicolino was taken in the second round.

"Got drafted together and played two years together," Nicolino said. "We were really close. Through this whole process, when I got traded in November of 2012, and he in December, it was really weird. But he is right down the road, 45 minutes [to the Mets' Spring Training facility]. We still talk all the time.

"When I went to New York last year, we hung out. To me, it's one of those good friendships that you keep. We get to see each other a lot. It's good."

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.