Nicolino, Sanchez work well in tandem

Lugnuts' starter, reliever keeps third straight foe off the board

By Sam Dykstra / Special to | April 19, 2012 7:31 PM ET

Justin Nicolino and Aaron Sanchez do a lot together.

They were drafted together -- Sanchez in the first round, Nicolino in the second round -- in 2010. They spent the 2011-'12 offseason living together. They currently room in their new Michigan home together.

And now for Class A Lansing, they pitch together, and they pitch together well.

Nicolino and Sanchez combined to allow only two hits over six shutout innings in the Lugnuts' 2-0 win over Burlington on Thursday. The pair struck out three Bees hitters apiece in three innings of work. A walk issued by Sanchez (2-0), who relieved the starting Nicolino in the fourth, was the only statistic that differentiated the two hurlers' lines.

Thursday marked the third occasion in three outings this season that the two pitchers had worked as a starter-reliever tandem -- Nicolino now has two starts to Sanchez's one -- and subsequently the third time neither had surrendered a run in their combined six innings.

"We pick each other's brains a lot, try to talk about our different pitches," said Nicolino, the Blue Jays' No. 6 prospect. "Whether he's starting or I'm starting, it doesn't matter. He's a power guy, so if he's starts, he establishes the game and it's my job to feed off it. We both have to set the tone for the other."

The two power pitchers stand just an inch apart from each other. But the lefty-righty combo of the 6-foot-3 Nicolino and 6-foot-4 Sanchez may be more daunting to the opposition.

"I'm not a hitter," said Sanchez, Toronto's No. 8 prospect. "But seeing two big arms coming at you from both sides of the mound like we do, I'm sure that's not a fun matchup."

Depending on the stats one uses, an argument could be made either way for who has been the better pitcher after three appearances this season. Nicolino leads his partner in strikeouts (11-10), thanks to a new and improved curveball grip that he says "stays in the fastball lane," strikeout-to-walk ratio (11-2) and WHIP (0.56-0.78), but Sanchez owns a better opponents' batting average (.100-.182).

Neither Lugnut expects to increase his workload and break up the pitching pair any time soon.

"The organization has a plan," Nicolino said. "We know whether we're cruising through our innings, whether we have a low pitch count or whatever, we know we're coming out after three. So that just leaves you asking, 'Why not give it our all for those three innings?'"

"Whenever we do get stretched out, we're going to be pleased," said Sanchez. "But for right now, we're going to keep going pitch after pitch and keep what's working, working."

Brandon Berl struck out four batters over two frames, and Ajay Meyer earned his Midwest League-leading sixth save of the early season with a perfect ninth. The Lugnuts now own a 1.73 team ERA, the lowest in the Midwest.

Lansing center fielder Kenny Wilson went 2-for-3 with a triple, an RBI and run scored.

Sam Dykstra is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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