This past week hasn’t been good to the Florida Marlins and their fans. Take Friday night, and me, for example. One minute I was watching the Marlins jump out to leads of 5-0 (1st inning), 7-1 (3rd inning), and 13-4 (4th inning). Within an hour I walked into a party and the game was 13-12. I still have no idea what exactly happened. Then, after spending about 20 minutes at the party where I knew few people, observing multiple partygoers stepping into the bathroom for 30 seconds and coming out noticeably excited, being thoroughly sketched out with half the party being early 20’s people and the other half being people in their 40’s-50’s accompanied by ladies 20 years younger, I decided to ask what was the fucking deal. My friend informed me that it was her friend’s father’s house, that he was kinda into drugs, and that all the older guys were his dealers and their girlfriends. They started shooting fireworks at each other and the cars driving down the street. I felt extremely comfortable.Later, the Marlins managed to blow a 13-4 (and later, 17-12) lead and fall in a walk-off, 18-17 loss. Needless to say, I departed shortly thereafter and spent the remainder of the evening in a drunken stupor. One bar rejected me for not wearing sleeves (my D-Wade USA jersey and American flag bandana weren’t appropriate attire), so I walked a mile to buy an extra small bright yellow shirt. Fuck those assholes. You think you can keep me from looking like a complete dipshit while drinking in your bar? Wrong.
So yeah, the Marlins haven’t been playing well. Still, they sit only 1.5 games out of first place and get Josh Johnson back this week, have called up Chris Volstad to replace poster boy Mark Hendrickson, and expect Anibal Sanchez to return by August 3. If they can find a catcher and some bullpen arms, and the rest of the division keeps inhaling cock like GldnKnight inhales mini-donuts (one day, the fat jokes will stop), they might have a chance. Or not. I still see them winning about 80 games, give or take 3.
But one of the only reasons the Marlins are in position to be considered contenders is the performance of de facto staff ace Ricky Nolasco. Ricky came to Florida, along with solid LH reliever Renyel Pinto and back of the rotation starter/long reliever Sergio Mitre, in the 2005 Juan Pierre deal. Give Jim Hendry another round of applause.
Ricky throws a good fastball that sits in the low-mid 90’s, a 12-6 curveball (last night on the Padres broadcast Tony Gwynn called it a striker or something like that), and a changeup. His fastball and curveball are excellent and led many to believe that he was, at worst, a valuable set-up guy/closer with the potential to develop into a back of the rotation starter. But the thought was that unless he added a quality third pitch, he’d probably end up in the bullpen; Ricky was known as a control/command guy in the minors, i.e. someone who wouldn’t walk people but might not be any more than a reliever in the majors due to his two pitch repertoire. He had an excellent 2005 at AA, throwing 161.2 innings with a 2.89 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and 173 K/46 BB. The Marlins promoted him to the majors in 2006.
Nolasco had a solid 2006 rookie year but missed most of 2007 due to a throwing arm injury. Coming into 2008, Ricky was expected to start the year in the bullpen and potentially later move to the rotation. He was added to the rotation early in the year after Rick Vanden Hurk, to put it kindly, struggled. Nolasco started the year out slowly, but he’s turned it on his last six starts.
VS. Phi: 6 IP, 4 H, O ER, 3 K, 1 BB, 1 HR
@ TB: 8.2 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 12 K, 1 BB, 1 HR
@ Oak: 7 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 3 K, 1 BB
VS. Ari: 8 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 9 K, 1 BB
VS. Was: 7 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, 8 K, 0 BB
@ SD: 8 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 7 K, 0 BB, 1 HR
He even managed to get the win last night, since Kevin Gregg quit being a cumguzzling douchefuck incapable of protecting a lead.
Ricky’s 2008 success is partially attributable to adding a quality cutter and splitter. Now Nolasco’s 2008 performance is a deviation from his past MLB stints, and might be viewed as an unsustainable run of success, but it’s not out of line with his minor league numbers. His velocity has returned to its pre-injury rates. Ricky’s getting roughly the same amount of line drives, groundballs, and flyballs as in the past, and his BABIP and HR/FB aren’t out of whack with his previous numbers. He’s throwing his cutter more instead of his changeup, which is probably a primary reason for his increased success. Provided he can continue commanding his new pitches, he should keep throwing well, although lefties still hit him hard.
I’d be hard pressed to expect Nolasco to blossom into an ace; the way he’s currently pitching is his peak, and I don’t think he’ll consistently put up these strikeout numbers. But with his improvement, the Marlins have a good #2/average #1 guy. Whether that’s enough to right the pitching staff and propel them into the playoffs is entirely another matter.