Lengthy innings at the plate can pose issues for a pitcher in the dugout watching his offense put up a slew of runs. Fortunately for Justin Nicolino, he doesn't like to sit down.
The Marlins' No. 4 prospect spun a career-high eight innings, allowing just three hits and a walk while striking out four as Double-A Jacksonville blanked Montgomery, 10-0, on Sunday.
After a shaky start that included leadoff singles for the Biscuits in the first and second innings and two stolen bases in those frames, Nicolino (2-2) had a chance to reset himself during the Suns' early outburst at the plate. All the while, he waited impatiently for his opportunity to find his form.
"I have a hard time sitting during the game," the southpaw said. "I'm always moving. That's just how I've always been. I'm always pacing in the dugout or moving around. When I went back out for the fourth after we scored six, the first two guys I faced, I went to 3-1 counts. I was kind of jacked up a little bit, a little amped from the six-run inning. I was rushing a little bit, getting ahead of myself. After those two guys, I got back into the groove and kept going from there."
The hitter's counts didn't hamper the 22-year-old, who was pitching in front of his parents. After walking Joey Rickard with one out in the second, he proceeded to retire the next 17 men he faced. Nicolino fanned Taylor Motter to end the sixth and caught Willie Argo looking to open the eighth. A flyout to center field off the bat of Jeff Malm ended the eighth, and with it, Nicolino's day.
"The biggest thing was establishing my fastball early," he said. "The first two innings were a little shaky. ... Having great defense behind me all day helped me out and made me relax. After that, it kind of was on cruise control. I attacked the zone with my fastball and threw enough offspeed today to get them off that fastball. Putting up 10 runs early for me definitely makes it easier to relax and go out there and pitch."
Now in his second season in the Marlins system after the 2012 blockbuster trade that brought him over from the Toronto organization, Nicolino is adjusting on the fly in his second stint in Double-A. Five days ago, the southpaw failed to make it out of the fifth while allowing four runs on six hits against Pensacola. He approached Sunday with a different mind-set.
"Today was basically going after the hitters, attacking the zone with whatever I had and executing pitches," Nicolino said. "I feel like I did that in situations that I needed to. If I fell behind, I got right back into the count. I feel like that was a big key for me."
At an economical 87 pitches through his eight innings, Suns manager Andy Barkett had to decide whether or not to let his lefty go for the complete game.
"There might have been a chance, but he's got to pitch again in five days," Barkett said. "A complete-game shutout's always nice, but his pitch count was getting up. We didn't want him to get over 100 pitches in a game that's 10-0. He did his job."
Jacksonville scored four times in the second, keyed by Austin Nola's two-run single, and added six more tallies in the third, highlighted by another Nola RBI single and a two-run Brady Shoemaker double. The Suns went 7-for-15 with runners in scoring position. The Biscuits, by contrast, were 0-for-1 in their only opportunity.
"I've faced every single one of those guys that was in the lineup today since 2012, I want to say," Nicolino added. "The Rays, in general, have always given me trouble. To be able to go out there and go eight scoreless today, it makes it that much better. I tip my cap to them because 1 through 9, they all can swing it. We all knew that coming into this series. They're the best team in the league right now, and they're swinging the best bats. To be able to go out there and give the bullpen a day off, basically, was really refreshing and made me enjoy it that much more."
Montgomery starter Mike Colla (1-3) lasted just 2 2/3 innings, allowing 10 runs -- four earned -- on nine hits while striking out two and walking two.