FSL notes: Nicolino enjoying Jupiter

Orlando native hasn't missed a beat since trade to Marlins

Justin Nicolino has a 2.70 ERA in four starts for the Hammerheads. (HayesPix.com)

By Guy Curtright / Special to MLB.com | April 24, 2013 6:00 AM

Justin Nicolino's parents got to see him pitch just a few times in his first two seasons. After all, it's a long trip to Vancouver or Lansing from his hometown of Orlando.

Now that the 21-year-old left-hander is in the Florida State League, though, the travel situation has greatly changed for the better.

"They're trying to get to almost all my games," said Nicolino, the Miami Marlins' No. 4-ranked prospect. 

So far, the Jupiter Hammerheads pitcher has put on a good showing for his family cheering section, especially in his past two outings.

Nicolino, one of the top prospects brought back in Miami's controversial trade of Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle to Toronto, allowed no runs and seven hits over 10 innings in those outings, although he didn't get a decision in either game.

The second-round pick in the 2010 Draft by the Blue Jays allowed just one base runner -- on a second-inning single -- in a home start against Bradenton on April 16, then blanked the Marauders on six hits over another five innings at Bradenton on Sunday.

Nicolino is on a strict five-inning limit, but he has made the most of his time on the mound. After taking the loss in Jupiter's opener, he has felt more comfortable with each start since.

The graduate of University High School in Orlando has just seven strikeouts to five walks over 20 innings in his four starts, but opposing hitters haven't been able to do much damage against him.

"I wasn't very good that first game, but pitching is all about making adjustments," he said. "I've been attacking the strike zone and trying to keep batters off-balance. I want them to hit my pitch, not theirs."

Nicolino's best pitch may be his changeup and the strikeouts will come. He fanned 119 in 124 innings last season for Lansing and led the Class A Midwest League with a 2.46 ERA while going 10-4 and walking just 21.

Nicolino, who has a 2.70 ERA, was destined for the Class A Advanced Florida State League this season even before the trade. In fact, he had just worked out at Toronto's facility in Dunedin when news of the deal broke.

"I was shopping for some pants at the mall in Tampa for a trip to Las Vegas," he said. "It was a shock and humbling to be a part of such a big trade like that.

"I enjoyed my time with the Blue Jays. It was great. But it's really exciting to be a part of a chance like this and hopefully get an opportunity to pitch in the big leagues near home in Florida.

"I don't feel any extra pressure. I just have to be myself."

Nicolino has a bit of a comfort zone with the Marlins. Miami skipper Mike Redmond was his manager at the end of the 2011 season in Lansing.

Eager to see what Nicolino could do against Major League hitters, Redmond sent the youngster to the mound to face St. Louis in a Grapefruit League game on March 28.

Nicolino didn't disappoint, allowing one run and six hits in five innings. He struck out three and walked none.

"It was surreal," Nicolino said. "What an experience. It is still hard to believe."

There to share the moment with him were his parents, Dale and Cheri.

"I think they were more nervous than I was," he said.

Nicolino's starts in the Florida State League won't be as nerve-racking for parents or son, but they will get to share them together.

In brief

Cold return: Daytona right fielder Jorge Soler, hitting .435 with two homers and five RBIs in five games when suspended, was just 4-for-19 in his first five games back. The 21-year-old Cuban drew a five-game ban from the Florida State League for brandishing a bat toward the Clearwater dugout after an on-field altercation April 10. In addition to the suspension, he missed two other games before getting back in the lineup last Thursday. Soler is ranked as the Chicago Cubs' No. 3 prospect and is No. 42 overall on MLB.com's Top 100 list.

Heating up: Bradenton shortstop Alen Hanson finally got going after a slow start, following up a four-hit game against Jupiter with a two-hit outing against the Hammerheads on Monday. The six hits in nine at-bats matched his total for his first 33 at-bats. Hanson, ranked as Pittsburgh's No. 3 prospect, was batting .258 with five extra-base hits and five stolen bases in 15 games. The 20-year-old native of the Dominican Republic hit .309 with 62 extra-base hits and 35 steals for West Virginia in the Class A South Atlantic League last year.

Sanchez shines: Dunedin right-hander Aaron Sanchez, Toronto's No. 1 prospect, won after three no-decisions, going a season-high 6 2/3 innings against Daytona on Sunday. He allowed two hits and one run while striking out five and issuing one walk. Sanchez, 20, had pitched five hitless innings against Tampa on April 11 but didn't figure in the decision. He has a 3.05 ERA and 15 strikeouts to seven walks in 20 2/3 innings.

Guy Curtright is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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