ARLINGTON -- To Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, righty Juan Nicasio's experience Saturday night against the Rangers was a textbook example of how a starter can win or lose a game in the first few minutes of his night, no matter what he does afterward.
Worse yet for Nicasio, he was facing Rangers star Yu Darvish in Darvish's return from Tommy John surgery after 14 months of recovery -- and unlike his counterpart, Darvish didn't waste any time getting into a groove. Darvish allowed only two baserunners in the first four innings.
"The will gets imposed during the game -- either you impose yours or they impose theirs," Hurdle said. "It starts with the first pitch. And after the first inning, I think we could all feel who imposed his will off the mound."
Still, after the troublesome beginning, Nicasio settled down and retired nine of the next 10 batters. When he left after 4 2/3 innings, he had salvaged some of the outing -- he yielded only one earned run after the first.
"I tried to fight, I tried to go deep in the game," Nicasio said. "I made a couple mistakes, and I paid for that."
Hurdle noted that none of Nicasio's first 10 pitches were faster than 91 mph, yet he threw 95 mph to the final batter he faced in the fifth inning. Nicasio threw 105 pitches total.
"I've just got to figure it out and talk with him," Hurdle said. "What we saw in the second, third and fourth inning, for me, that needs to be in play in the first. That kind of velocity, that kind of aggressiveness, the reps were quicker, the time in between pitches was better."
Based on his recent success as a reliever and relative difficulties this season -- he fell to 4-4 with a 4.79 ERA -- Nicasio would be a candidate to be moved back to the bullpen if and when the Pirates decide to make changes to their rotation. And the Pirates essentially skipped Nicasio in the rotation last time he was up, as he threw just one inning in a rained-out start and the club decided to wait until his next turn instead of pushing anyone back a day.
Hurdle thought the hiatus might be helpful to Nicasio, whom the Pirates have converted back into a starter after he became a reliever last year with the Dodgers, but it didn't work out that way.
"I actually thought it would play better for him, the time down," Hurdle said. "You need to get something done with the first pitch of the game, your execution, your aggressiveness and all that. I expect a little bit more out of the first inning."
Dave Sessions is a contributor to MLB.com based in Ft. Worth. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.