Nicasio's debut is Juan for the scrapbook

Righty dominates with 7 K's in 6 innings vs. Cards

Nicasio's debut is Juan for the scrapbook

PITTSBURGH -- Who said Spring Training performances don't carry over into the regular season? That certainly wasn't the case for Juan Nicasio in his Pirates debut on Wednesday night.

Fresh off an outstanding spring in which he earned the final spot in the Bucs' rotation, Nicasio struck out seven and allowed two hits over six strong innings, picking up the win in Pittsburgh's 5-1 victory over St. Louis at PNC Park.

"He's come in on a mission since he's got here. He wanted the opportunity to get stretched out and see where he could take it," manager Clint Hurdle said. "He's taken it and moved into the starting rotation. We'll give him every opportunity to continue."

Nicasio's Grapefruit League numbers were undeniably excellent: 24 strikeouts in 15 scoreless innings. His performance helped him beat out veteran right-hander Ryan Vogelsong for the last spot in the rotation. But how would that translate to the National League, especially against a lineup like that of the Cardinals?

Pretty well, as it turned out, because Nicasio didn't lose the electric stuff that propelled him back into a starting role.

Nicasio's fastball touched 98 mph and sat at 95-96 mph in his first few innings. His slider dived across the strike zone, and he mixed in more changeups as the night went on.

This was Nicasio's first start since last June, and even that was a two-inning outing. He hasn't truly been a starting pitcher since June 2014, when he was with the Rockies. He owns a career 5.12 ERA out of the rotation, partially a product of his then-home ballpark, Coors Field.

The Pirates dug deep into Nicasio's performance and liked what they saw, eventually signing him to a $3 million deal in early December. They liked his powerful arm and his versatility, making him a natural fit for either their bullpen or their rotation.

But another key to Nicasio's success, he has said, is the mentality he's brought into his new role. Spending last year in the Dodgers' bullpen, Nicasio learned to focus on every pitch rather than worry about making it through five or six innings.

"I'm not thinking too much," Nicasio said. "Like I did in Spring Training: One pitch at a time, one hitter at a time and keep going the same way."

The only blemish on Nicasio's pitching line came in the sixth inning, when Jeremy Hazelbaker launched a 2-2 slider into the right-center-field stands for his first career home run. Nicasio responded by striking out the Cardinals' next two hitters and getting Stephen Piscotty to line out to right field.

That brought an end to Nicasio's Bucs debut. He threw 84 pitches, 59 of them for strikes, and gave way to the Pirates' bullpen he was supposed to start the season in.

Not bad for a first impression, right?

"I'm happy I have the 'W,' " Nicasio said, smiling.

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