Nicasio ready for rotation or bullpen duty

Pirates pitcher feels great after Minor League outing

Nicasio ready for rotation or bullpen duty

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Juan Nicasio still isn't sure whether he'll be a starting pitcher or a reliever this time next week. Pitching on a back field at the Pirate City complex Sunday afternoon, the right-hander occasionally looked like both.

It seems fitting, because much of Nicasio's surprising success this spring has been the result of him carrying a reliever's mentality into a starting role.

"I think hitter for hitter. Hitter for hitter, one pitch at a time all the time. I'm not thinking of being a starter," he said. "My mentality is hitter for hitter, pitch for pitch, one inning for one inning. That's my mentality: One inning at a time."

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Nicasio threw 90 pitches over six innings against the Blue Jays' Triple-A team. He allowed one run on eight hits and two walks while striking out five. That was the first run he's given up all spring, though it doesn't count against his spotless Spring Training ERA because it wasn't in Grapefruit League play.

It's worth noting one hit and one walk came after Nicasio retired the side in order in the second inning. The inning continued only so Nicasio could throw more pitches.

"I feel really good," Nicasio said. "Really good."

Early on, Nicasio looked like a reliever, more like he did out of the Dodgers' bullpen last season. His fastball clocked in around 94-95 mph, and he cruised through the first two innings.

In the later innings, Nicasio pitched more like a starter, more like he did in the Rockies rotation. He leaned more on his slider and changeup, occasionally placing a priority on pitching to contact for the sake of avoiding long at-bats. His fastball sat in the 90- to 93-mph range, and he balanced it well with his offspeed pitches.

"It's not easy when you're a starting pitcher because you need to go deep into the game every time," he said.

Nicasio gave up two singles in his sixth and final inning, but he also struck out two batters -- both swinging -- and ended his outing by inducing a weak groundout to first base.

"In the sixth inning, I was feeling really good with my changeup and my breaking ball," he said. "The command of my fastball inside, up in the zone, really good. I was feeling good in the sixth inning."

Competing for one of the final two spots in the Pirates' rotation with Jeff Locke and Ryan Vogelsong, Nicasio made his latest outing in front of Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage, bullpen coach Euclides Rojas and a handful of front-office officials.

Nicasio isn't sure what's next for him, whether it's another start or a couple of bullpen sessions to get him ready for the season, nor has he been told where he'll pitch in a week.

"I'll be ready for both, for relieving, for starting. I'll be ready for both," Nicasio said. "Right now, my arm is feeling really good and I'll be ready to help the team win."

Adam Berry is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.