Nicasio said on Saturday afternoon that he felt fine after being bothered by shoulder stiffness in his appearance on Friday night.
ARLINGTON, Texas — Maybe by now most Mariners fans have grown numb to it, given the sheer quantity of injuries that have inundated this organization dating back to last season. Still, the sight of manager Scott Servais and athletic trainer Matt Toth going to the mound to see if reliever Juan Nicasio was ailing should have brought out some sort of visceral reaction to even the most emotionally-hardened fan.
A few pitches into the eighth inning of Friday night’s 6-2 win over the Rangers, pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre thought that Nicasio looked a little off with how he was throwing the ball. He told Servais what he was seeing. The velocity readings on Nicasio’s fastball had him around 90 mph.
Servais went to the mound with Toth to see if Nicasio was hurting. The veteran right-hander told Servais that he’d had trouble getting loose in the bullpen and was a little stiff. The conversation continued, but Nicasio talked his way into staying in the game. He worked out of the inning without allowing a run to score, aided by a magnificent diving stop and double play from second baseman Robinson Cano.
“The ball really wasn’t coming out and he admitted he was a little stiff,” Servais said. “He said, ‘I’m okay. I can go.’ You have to trust your veteran players. He didn’t feel 100 percent. But it says a lot about him, he was going to gut it out. He made the big pitch and got the double play.”
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A day later, Nicasio said the stiffness was gone from his shoulder.
“I was a little tight behind my shoulder,” he said. “It felt weird. But I will be okay. I had it checked out with the trainer. I got it massaged. It’s better now.”
It’s weird line that a manager must walk. In some scenarios, a player is removed at the slightest tinge of discomfort. Nicasio wanted to stay in and Servais let him.
“Juan is a workhorse,” Servais said. “He prides himself on being available all the time. But you do have to be smart. With the veteran players, I know you’ve heard me say before that I trust our guys, they know their bodies. Sometimes you do have to step in and do the right thing based on what your eyes are seeing.”
One thing that everyone is seeing is a decreased velocity on Nicasio’s fastball. Per Fangraphs, Nicasio’s average fastball is 93.2 mph in 9 2/3 innings pitched, which is down from the 95.7 mph it averaged last season. There have been times where the fastball has touched as high as 95-96 mph but also times where it sat around 90-91 mph.
Is Nicasio concerned?
“No, I’m not worried,” he said. “I can still throw hard. Sometimes you need to show the heater and the power, but other times you need the sinker and command.”
He believes that the velocity will come back up as he amasses more innings and the weather gets warmer.
“The more I throw, I feel better and better,” he said. “I get stronger.”
A glance at the website Baseball by Brooks, which charts all things pitchers, shows that Nicasio’s fastball velocity did increase over the period of the 2017 season. But he started out averaging 95.45 mph and moved up to 96.21 mph by August and then dipped slightly in September.
Opposing scouts have mentioned that Nicasio looks stiff in his delivery as if to protect his arm from stress. Asked if he has any health issues with the arm, Nicasio replied: “No, I’m feeling good. I’m healthy.”
With the season-ending injury to David Phelps, a healthy Nicasio is absolutely critical to the Mariners late-innings set-up situation. The Mariners signed him to a 2-year, $17 million contract to fill that role before closer Edwin Diaz. They don’t have another pitcher with his experience level and stuff to fill that spot if he were to get injured. His health and velocity will be something to monitor going forward.