As Spring Training began, it was announced that there were two openings in Miami's rotation for the 2016 season, and the early front runners were Tom Koehler, Jarred Cosart, Adam Conley, and Justin Nicolino.
With Cosart able to prove that he was healthy after an ear infection cut his 2015 campaign short, and Conley looking more and more like a number three starter for this team, Nicolino was forced to start the season with Triple-A New Orleans despite only giving up two earned runs over eight and a third spring innings.
However, in light of Cosart's dreadful first few outings for Miami, he was demoted, and Nicolino was called up to take his place. In his first game of the year, Justin Nicolino performed like he deserved a rotation spot all along. The left-hander logged 7.1 scoreless innings in Dodger stadium and allowed two hits and two walks to go along with two strikeouts and the win.
The Dodgers, while 3-7 over their last ten games and .500 overall on the season, are a very talented team, and the Marlins should be very encouraged by what they saw out of their young starter that night. Nicolino still severely lacks the strikeout numbers that top starters in the league rely on to succeed, but his ability to effectively stay out of trouble should be admired.
Dating back to the last month of last season, Justin Nicolino currently owns a three start win streak, and an ERA of 1.27 over that span. Before Adam Conley's no-hit start the other night, Nicolino's first start of the season was the deepest a Marlins starter had gone into a ballgame in 2016, and that includes staff ace Jose Fernandez.
Nicolino has been overlooked on numerous occasions during his career, with the perfect example being the start of this season, when he pitched better than Tom Koehler (who gave up eight earned runs on Sunday, by the way) in Spring Training but still got sent to the minors to start the year due to, primarily, less big league experience. If Nicolino can get the better of the Arizona Diamondbacks tonight, though, he might just guarantee himself a start every fifth day for the near future.
For the Miami Marlins, left-handed starting pitchers have been like buses; you don't see one for ages, four years, in this case (Mark Buehrle was the last regularly starting lefty), and then three come at once. Even though three left-handers in the rotation may seem unbalanced to some, Wei-Yin Chen, Adam Conley and Justin Nicolino represent the future of this organization.
Nicolino deserved to start in Los Angeles, and he earned his start tonight in Miami. Another strong performance, at a ballpark where the Marlins are currently struggling to score runs, will prove further that he is ready to make that next step, and stay in the majors for good this time.