Although Justin Nicolino was only responsible for giving up three earned runs in Miami's 10-0 loss last night, the young left-hander failed to pitch six innings for the fourth outing in a row.
A fantastic season debut in Los Angeles had some people believing that Nicolino could be a strong addition to Miami's rotation in 2016 but, apart from a two-run, six-inning effort in Philadelphia, he has failed to achieve similar success over his seven starts on the year.
Nicolino enjoyed a strong Spring Training, and was unfortunate not to earn a spot on the Opening Day roster. However, opportunity soon came knocking as the Marlins decided to send Jarred Cosart and his 8.59 ERA down to Triple-A after three starts.
While Cosart is failing to stand out among minor league pitchers (4.08 ERA over 35.1 innings) and the Marlins, therefore, don't really have anyone to bump him out of the big league rotation, Nicolino is yet to show that he is capable of being a middle-of-the-rotation pitcher, like the scouting reports once suggested.
Although he would probably have more wins to his name if the offense could produce more runs when he is on the mound, consistently giving up three or four runs per start, which he has done for the past six starts, is not a path to success.
The fact that we are seeing an upward trend in the opponent's batting average against Nicolino with every successive start this season is alarming, but one encouraging sign is that he has struck out more batters in his last two starts (ten) than his previous five starts combined (six). The strikeout pitch, or lack thereof, has always been a hole in the lefty's game, but this data suggests that he might be starting to turn things around.
Justin Nicolino has always been on the outside looking in when it comes to the organization's best young pitcher. First he was behind Jose Fernandez, then Andrew Heaney, and now Adam Conley has probably past him too due to his better success in the big leagues, despite his recent struggles.
At a time when Miami's bullpen pitchers are starting to drop like flies, the Marlins need their starters to go as deep as possible into games to give the team the best chance to win, and to avoid exhausting the relief corps. Nicolino is failing to do that, and this may be the best chance he gets of cementing his spot in the major leagues.
The Marlins have barely been above .500 for weeks now, and their record could be a lot better if they were getting stronger starts by pitchers not wearing the #16 jersey. Miami needs Justin Nicolino, and the others, to improve.
Nicolino may well get quite a few more starts this season, but he won't get many more chances to prove himself if he does not start to deliver results.