2016 stats: 3-6, 4.99 ERA, 79.1 IP, 3 Quality Starts, 1.46 WHIP, 4.2 K/9, 0.6 WAR
2016 had a similar feel to 2015 for Justin Nicolino.
The year started with him getting an invite to Spring Training to battle it out for a spot at the back end of Miami’s rotation. He impressed, posting a 2.16 ERA with eight strikeouts over eight and a third innings, but ultimately lost out to Jarred Cosart and Adam Conley, and started the season at Triple-A New Orleans.
But, after Cosart endured a miserable April, Nicolino was recalled and made ten-straight starts, the highlight of which was his season debut, a two-hit shutout over 7.1 innings against the Dodgers in Los Angeles. He then allowed four or more earned runs in five of his next nine appearances before being sent down again.
Nicolino would only start three more games the rest of the way during brief stints in the rotation, and only managed to pitch six innings in one of those games, a feat which he achieved in just four of his thirteen starts. While filling the role of reliever as a September call-up, he enjoyed more success, as he only surrendered one run in eight and two third innings.
Nicolino’s ERA and WHIP were both significantly higher this season, showing that the left-hander is yet to adjust to the level of major league hitters. Although the Marlins saw little improvement from their once highly regarded prospect, they do have one reason for optimism.
Justin Nicolino’s strikeouts per nine innings rose by fifty percent this season, and while that may not seem like a big deal, there have always been concerns regarding him not having a put-away pitch (5.7 K/9 over the course of his minor league career, and a 2.8 K/9 for the Marlins in 2015). Therefore, this rise could indicate that he is beginning to turn a corner.
Nicolino seems to be stuck somewhere between AAA and the majors at this point in his career; too good for the minor leagues but not quite good enough to regularly be a part of Miami’s rotation. The only thing that will help him to improve is more experience against major league batters, but can the Marlins risk losses now for potential wins in the future?
That remains to be seen, but with the way the 2017 Marlins rotation is shaping up, he may get plenty of opportunities to prove himself.