Nicasio happy to be back in starting role

Nicasio happy to be back in starting role

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Juan Nicasio moved to the Rockies' bullpen in June 2014. He spent all of 2015 as a Dodgers reliever. But the title -- relief pitcher -- didn't quite stick with him.

"When you've been a starter in the past, and you move to the bullpen, in my heart, I think I can be a starter again," Nicasio said on Thursday morning. "I prayed to God to give me the opportunity to be a starter, because I think I can pitch as a starter."

The Pirates evidently share Nicasio's faith, as they placed him in their starting rotation to begin the season. Nicasio beat out Ryan Vogelsong for Pittsburgh's final spot, manager Clint Hurdle announced on Wednesday, and Nicasio was pleased to hear his hard work -- and remarkable spring success -- had been rewarded.

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"I'm happy to be part of the rotation. [I] worked hard everyday, and every five days I try to be the best," Nicasio said. "When I signed, I signed to the bullpen, but I had a chance to be a starter, too. I worked hard and tried to be a starter."

Nicasio blew away opposing hitters all spring, striking out 24 batters over 15 scoreless innings. He was as effective as he has ever been, and he attributes that success to everything he learned over the last year and a half in the bullpen.

"One pitch at a time. One hitter at a time. One inning at a time," Nicasio said. "I'm not thinking about the seventh, eighth, or ninth inning. Only one pitch at a time, one hitter at a time. It's simple."

Now, Nicasio is thinking about the Cardinals. He will start Wednesday's game, the Bucs' third of the season, at PNC Park.

"I'm excited," Nicasio said. "I'm happy about that."

Heat rising

Left-hander Kyle Lobstein, who should round out the Pirates' bullpen as a multi-inning reliever if they don't make any more moves before Sunday, isn't known as a pitcher who will blow his fastball by hitters. His game is built around keeping opponents off-balance, mixing in his arsenal of different pitches and painting the corners of the strike zone.

But Lobstein's fastball velocity has ticked up this spring, zipping to the catcher's mitt with more life, and he attributes that change to the mechanical work he has done with pitching coach Ray Searage. Lobstein, who allowed two runs in two innings of Thursday's 13-8 win over the Rays, said they have focused on transferring the momentum in his delivery from his legs to his upper body.

Mission accomplished

The Pirates concluded Grapefruit League play on Thursday. They headed back to Bradenton to make the final preparations for their trip to Indianapolis, where they will play an exhibition against the Reds at Victory Field, home of Pittsburgh's Triple-A affiliate, on Saturday.

Hurdle said the Pirates' everyday players will get a few innings and at-bats, but they don't want to overwork them with Opening Day coming about 24 hours later.

Quote of the day

Within the first two innings of Thursday's win, Matt Joyce banged a homer off the scoreboard in left field, Francisco Cervelli launched one off the roof of the tiki bar in center field and Sean Rodriguez crushed a grand slam high off a light pole in left.

"We hit the tiki hut. And the scoreboard. And a light pole," Hurdle said. "Cervelli homered in the first game and the last game. Bookends. Time to go."

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.