When the roster was being idealized in the off-season and spring training, Juan Nicasio was going to be in a dogfight for the 5th spot behind a set group of Chacin, DLR, Anderson and Chatwood. Injuries to Chacin gave him the #4 right away and a silly hamstring pushed him to #3 and the nod for the home opener. Sadly the great signs we saw in his first apperence didn’t carry over to his second time out. Looking too much like the Juan of 2013, he gave them 5 innings of 8 hit, 2BB, 6K and 4 run ball. He kept them in it, leaving with the score 4-3. That is when the bullpen took over and delivered exactly what Walt Weiss dreams off: 4 innings of zeroes across the board (even only the 1K, that for Ottavino). With their first off-day of the season, using five relievers was no stretch. It was everything the pen was not the night before. Even Rex Brothers fought back from a first-batter 3 ball count to get his outs. And we finally had a Boone Logan sighting.
The offense was relentless. The first series of the year in Miami we saw the offense stop after early scoring. While the Rox scored a single run in each of the first three innings, they didn’t put the bats away. In the 6th they tied it up off White Sox starter Erik Johnson.
The 6th opened up with Justin Morneau hitting one that Sox LF Dayan Viciedo overran and then threw wildly to 3rd, giving up a gift double (or a tee-ball triple). With no outs and a man at third, things looked bad as Arenado and Culberson failed to bring in the runner. Fortunately, DJ LeMahieu lined one at Sox RF Avisail Garcia that he dove at and jammed his shoulder on, keeping him from closing the glove and giving DJ a double to tie things up. Once tied up, the pen was in shutdown mode, and the Sox pen was in blow-up mode. The 8th started with another big hit by Morneau against a lefty, Scott Downs. Stubbs came into pitchrun. Arenado bounced a soft single, to put men at 2nd and 1st, where Charlie Culberson, the only Rox starter aside from Nicasio who failed to get a hit, laid down a perfect bunt to set-up a 1 out, third and second opportunity. Against a drawn-in infield DJ lined one back-up the middle, literally tearing the glove off of Sox pitcher Ronald Belasario (an old Dodgers relief pitcher). That scored both runners, and allowed DJ to go to second. Next up we had our first Josh Rutledge sighting, and Josh took a 1-1 pitch back-up the middle to score DJ. Charlie Blackmon, who had been hitless since his winning the player-of-the-week award, stroked his third hit of the day, making it first and third. Cudduyer, with his 9 game hitting streak on the line, hit a line-drive single to center to bring in Rutledge, leaving it 1st and 2nd for CarGo. CarGo struck out his previous AB, but didn’t wait long this time, stroking a double to left on the first pitch from RHP Jake Petricka (and injury replacement for Belesario) to complete the scoring. After the onslaught the night before against the pen in what had been a close game, this had to feel nice.
Nicasio had his ups and downs. He stranded a two-out double in the first, gave up two runs in the second on a walk, two solid singles and inflied single to third. In the third he rebounded with a nice 8 pitch inning, including a double-play ball. The fourth inning was also short, although he had another of those frustrating ABs where his lack of pitch differentiation led to a 6 ball walk, but even with that he only used 13 pitches to get through the inning. The fifth is when all the 2013 Nicasio returned. A 6 pitch infield single to Eaton, was followed by a line-drive single, leaving men at first and third. A steal by Sox 2nd Semien set up a 2nd and 3rd with no one out during that at-bat of Jose Abreau, he of the two homers last night, added to the drama. Nicasio got Abreau to fly-out to Cuddy, keeping the runners at 2nd and 3rd. He then battled clean-up batter Viciedo to an 8 pitch strike-out (6 sliders, all at 84, and 2 4 seamers at 92). So, two outs and two on, a chance to get out of this inning with the lead and a chance to pitch into the 6th. Instead on the 4th pitch of the AB Sox 3B Conner Gillaspie drove it into center and the scores was 4-3. Nicasio was clearly angered because he had a nice 5 pitch K to end the inning. After 95 pitches (61 strikes, but too many of those were fouled off pitches because of the were timed in) in five innings he was done. Instead of leaving with a lead and the win, he left with his team behind. Was it a bad outing for Nicasio? Not bad, but more reminiscent of last year, which is what we do not want to see.
The Rox threw out 16 hits and 2 walks against just 7 strikeouts. They did leave 7 on-base, but were still 7-16 with RISP. Not bad. A triple in the first by Blackmon was cashed in by a Cuddy groundout to SS. In the 2nd LeMahieu singled, stole 2nd moved to third on a groundout by Nicasio and plated by a single by Blackmon. The run in the third came from a 1-out single by CarGo, a two out, hit-by-pitch on Morneau, followed by a single off the glove of Sox 3B Gillaspie for Nolan Arenado. So good offensive production up and down the line-up. With Tulo sitting due to an “injured quad,” Rosario was in the 4 hole, but was one of the three fielders who didn’t have an RBI (Morneau and Culberson the others). All in all, good production from what is not their most powerful lineup.
So the Rox finish the 6 game, two series home-stand with 4 wins, two series wins and two losses to lefty starters – something to watch as the season goes. In the four wins they scored 12, 9, 8 and 10. In the two lefty losses, 3 runs in both. Finally after 10 straight games, the team gets an off-day, a chance to re-set the bullpen after the change of Lopez for Rutledge, and time to analyze how they will set-up for their first West Coast trip. They start on Friday with Jorge De La Rosa, Brett Anderson and probably Jordyn Lyles in San Francisco. Then four games in San Diego. Last year they were 2-7 (including being swept in April) in San Francisco and 5-4 in San Diego (including a sweep on that same April trip).
Enjoy the off-day Rox’s fans!