Nolasco paving way for Twins' rotation

Righty proving to be Minnesota's strongest starter after earning job this spring

Nolasco paving way for Twins' rotation

MILWAUKEE -- Ricky Nolasco had to beat out fellow right-hander Tyler Duffey this spring to earn the fifth-starter job, but so far, he's been the Twins' best starter.

After going seven innings in both of his first two starts, Nolasco followed it up with another strong showing in the Twins' 8-1 win over the Brewers on Thursday, going 6 1/3 innings, allowing one run on five hits and a walk with a season-high seven strikeouts to get his first win. Nolasco, who posted a combined 5.64 ERA over the previous two seasons, now has a rotation-leading 2.66 ERA this season.

"The slider was pretty good, and I was able to mix in some curveballs and sink the ball when I needed to," Nolasco said. "I think the key thing today was the slider. It's always been a good put-away pitch for me."

Nolasco's slider has been a major factor in his turnaround, and he leaned on it again on Thursday. He threw 34 sliders, with 26 of them going for strikes, including six swinging strikes. Four of his strikeouts came on sliders, while the other three came on his curveball, which is a pitch he believes is also starting to come around.

Nolasco gave up an RBI double to Ryan Braun in the first, but then he struck out Braun on a 75-mph curveball in the dirt in the third and an 82-mph slider in the sixth.

"He looks like his old self," Twins second baseman Brian Dozier said. "He's not a power guy, but he throws every pitch in every count. You look at the swings that Braun took, and he's one of the better hitters in the league. And [Jonathan] Lucroy and [Chris] Carter and those guys, he was just fooling them -- 2-0 curveballs and changeups -- tricking them."

Nolasco's start caught the eye of both Brewers manager Craig Counsell and Braun, especially with the use of his offspeed pitches.

"He got command of his curveball and his slider, and he used it as well as anybody we've seen so far this year," Counsell said.

Braun is familiar with Nolasco from his time in the National League, where Nolasco had a 4.37 ERA before joining the Twins prior to the 2014 season on a four-year deal worth $49 million.

"He is a guy who has had a lot of success in this game," Braun said. "He's off to a really good start for them. Great curveball, great slider. For the most part, he was able to locate both pitches, wherever he wanted, whenever he wanted."

Nolasco said the main difference this year is he's finally healthy, and his average fastball velocity is the highest it's been since 2010. He said he struggled with his fastball command early in the game, but once he corrected it, it helped make his offspeed pitches even better.

"It comes along with being able to let it go and get better extension," Nolasco said. "After the first two innings, I was able to sit back a little bit. Once I can start dotting the fastball, the slider comes along with that."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.