After up-and-down 2011, Nolasco excited for '12

After up-and-down 2011, Nolasco excited for '12

After up-and-down 2011, Nolasco excited for '12
MIAMI -- In many ways, Ricky Nolasco's 2011 season mirrored that of the Marlins.

Like the team, the 28-year-old right-hander got off to a fast start, posting a 4-1 record with a 3.82 ERA through his first 11 starts.

But when the Marlins' season began to spiral downward in June, so did Nolasco's success.

After being in contention through May, the Marlins struggled the rest of the way, finishing in last place in the National League East with a 72-90 record.

Inconsistent throughout the year, Nolasco ended up 10-12 with a 4.67 ERA in 206 innings pitched.

The ups and downs makes the Marlins and their fans wonder which Ricky Nolasco they saw in 2011.

"You saw two of them," Nolasco said. "There are always a few games that kind of ruin a season for me. It's something I've got to get control over. But I battled through a lot of things."

On the positive side, Nolasco made 33 starts and logged 206 innings on a staff that was without its ace, Josh Johnson, for most of the year.

There were times when Nolasco was very good, reflected by the five-hit shutout he threw at Oakland on June 29.

Then there were the forgetful starts, like the franchise-record 15-hit struggle he endured at the Dodgers on May 29.

Four times he had starts where he allowed 10 or more hits. And five times he pitched at least eight innings, and he had two complete games.

A strike thrower, Nolasco walked just 44, but his strikeouts were down to 148. In 2009, for example, he struck out 195 with 44 walks in 185 innings.

Staying consistent remains a challenge for the right-hander.

"I learned a lot last year, probably more than any other year," Nolasco said.

Nolasco gave up 244 hits on the season, the most in the National League and second most in the big leagues. Carl Pavano surrendered 262 hits in 222 innings for the Twins.

When you rank among the league leaders in innings pitched, you are going to give up hits. Nolasco was one of 39 starters last year to reach the 200-inning plateau.

"There are no excuses," Nolasco said. "I didn't pitch like I should have. It makes me hungrier."

Nolasco was recently in South Florida attending the team's renaming ceremony when they became the Miami Marlins.

To seriously contend in 2012, the Marlins are looking to have a rotation that can rival the Phillies. To get there, they are looking for two established starters on the market.

Most likely, Miami will obtain one starter as a free agent, and the other through a trade.

The team is courting free-agent lefty Mark Buehrle, while they are targeting Oakland left-hander Gio Gonzalez as a trade option. Tampa Bay's James Shields has also drawn interest from Miami.

Nolasco is in the second of a three-year contract, and the right-hander is set to make $9 million next year.

Heading into 2011, Nolasco was overcoming a couple of injuries.

Late in 2010, he suffered a torn meniscus in his right knee, which required surgery. And then just prior to the start of Spring Training, he jammed his right thumb doing some conditioning.

Nolasco dismisses any notion that the thumb injury set him back.

"People can say the thumb, but I started off well," Nolasco said. "All I can do is go forward from there."

Nolasco is spending most of the offseason training in the Los Angeles area, where he has a home.

"I'm going to get myself into the best shape possible," he said. "I look to be healthy again and keep doing what I need to do."

With the Marlins moving into their new stadium, they have additional revenues to pursue big-name free agents and players.

Like the rest of his teammates, Nolasco is encouraged about the new era that is about to begin.

"I think everybody gets excited, hearing all those names," he said. "Anything that can make the team better, we're excited for. We're going to welcome them with open arms. It's fun."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. He writes a blog, called The Fish Pond. Follow him on Twitter @JoeFrisaro. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.