One of the quirks of the Florida State League is that the Jupiter Hammerheads and Palm Beach Cardinals share Roger Dean Stadium.
For Justin Nicolino, who joked with his coaches before Sunday's game about the high number of road games he's started, being part of the visiting team in his own back yard was just another day in the Minor Leagues.
The Marlins' No. 4 prospect allowed two singles over six innings in the Class A Advanced Jupiter Hammerheads' 1-0 win over the "host" Palm Beach Cardinals.
"There are some nights when there are more Cardinals fans and some nights when there are more Hammerheads fans," Nicolino said. "It's basically the same as a home game in a different uniform, except I'm not going out there in the top of the first inning. It gives my offense a chance to put up some runs before I go out there, and that gives me even more reason to be confident.
"It's a pitchers' park and I like it here. It saves me a lot of runs and hits for me with it being so big. If I give up a deep fly ball, I know it has a chance of being caught."
The 21-year-old left-hander struck out five batters and faced one over the minimum in lowering his ERA to 2.89. But he did not factor in the decision.
It was the second consecutive start in which Nicolino pitched a season-high six innings and the fourth time this season he did not allow a run. He's yielded just one run over 17 innings in his last three starts against Lakeland, Tampa and Palm Beach.
"I mostly just went out there and attacked hitters and kept the ball down," said Nicolino, acquired from the Blue Jays in the blockbuster 12-player trade that sent Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle last November. "I threw all of my three pitches [fastball, curveball, changeup] for strikes and even when I fell behind, I went to the well and got a ground ball or a strikeout.
"Today, I felt nice and relaxed. It was a day game, I got enough sleep last night, and I went out there with the mind-set that we'd score enough runs to allow me to pitch my own game and relax, especially on a Sunday."
Jonathan Rodriguez led off the second inning with a single to left field, but Danny Stienstra grounded into a double play and Nicolino retired the next eight batters until Stienstra beat out an infield hit. The Florida native set down the final five Cardinals before handing over a scoreless tie to the Hammerheads bullpen.
"I just got word last week that I was able to go six innings," said Nicolino, a 2010 second-round pick out of University High School in Orlando. "They are looking at pitch counts and making sure I'm not overdoing it or trying to do too much. If [my limit] is six innings, I'll go out there and give it my all for six innings."
MLB.com's No. 67 overall prospect has made only one true home start this year and has pitched in six different locales: St. Lucie, Fort Myers, Brevard County, Charlotte, Lakeland and Tampa. As someone who grew up in the Sunshine State, he sees familiar faces wherever he goes.
"I was talking about that with my coaches and trainers because I haven't pitched at home very much," Nicolino said. "Road games show you what you're really made of because you're pitching in someone else's park. It shows you a lot about yourself.
"My parents have been at all my games except one or two this year and my girlfriend comes down a lot on the road to Tampa and Lakeland and Bradenton along with family and friends."
James Nygren (2-2) followed Nicolino and pitched around three hits over 1 2/3 innings to earn the win. Nick Wittgren put the potential tying run on base before slamming the door to earn his ninth save.
Yefri Perez drove in the game's only run with a single in the eighth after Cardinals reliever Heath Wyatt (2-2) committed a pair of throwing errors. Palm Beach starter Jonathan Cornelius allowed two hits and a walk over seven scoreless innings.