Justin Nicolino’s locker was empty.
Or at least emptier than most of his teammates’.
Nicolino, a lefty who was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays out of high school in 2010, was called up by the Marlins to start on Sunday and take injured starter Wei-Yin Chen’s place in Miami’s rotation. It was his first major-league action of 2017.
And he delivered.
“He just pitched well,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “He changed speeds. That’s what he does.”
Nicolino went six innings and allowed six hits, one earned run and struck out five on 79 pitches.
He said his path to success started in the first inning. Facing a bases-loaded situation, he induced a ground ball back to himself, which he threw home to catcher A.J. Ellis, who threw it to first baseman Justin Bour to end the inning.
“That just kind of set the tone,” he said.
Nicolino got a no-decision in his team’s 3-1 victory.
Until Sunday, Nicolino had spent all of 2017 with the New Orleans Baby Cakes, Miami’s Triple A affiliate. He posted a 1-3 record and a 4.46 ERA in seven starts with New Orleans before his call-up.
Nicolino does have major-league experience. He spent parts of 2015 and ’16 in the Marlins’ rotation as well as working out of the bullpen toward the end of 2016. He entered Sunday with an 8-10 record and 4.52 ERA in his major-league career.
CHEN’S MURKY STATUS
Before Sunday’s game, Chen had his arm wrapped up so thickly that his elbow resembled a large roll of toilet paper. And for good reason.
Thanks to that arm injury, Chen’s status with the Marlins is still unclear, even to Chen himself.
He said he attempted to have a bullpen session on Saturday but felt pain and had to stop. Chen said he saw a doctor, who told him to take Sunday off and re-evaluate things on Monday.
Chen’s troubles started on May 1 when after making his fifth start of the season he complained of discomfort in his throwing arm. The Marlins placed him on the disabled list with “left arm fatigue.”
Mattingly didn’t think it was too serious. An MRI at the time didn’t reveal anything worrisome. But now the concern is growing.
Chen said he hasn’t had a detailed discussion about his options with doctors, but he added that regardless of what they say he might seek a second opinion. For now, he said the next step is likely another MRI, this time possibly after having dye injected into his elbow to make the image more detailed.
“I think I have to get an MRI and then talk with the doctor and see what he thinks,” Chen said, “and then decide what I’m gonna do.”
Marlins shortstop J.T. Riddle returned to the lineup on Saturday and played again on Sunday, amassing zero hits in the two games. But despite his lack of production at the plate, the Marlins are happy to have him back.
The rookie infielder had been held out after suffering a hand injury on Tuesday, but he said he’s back to normal now.
“No issues at all,” he said. “I’d say 90 percent.”
Prior to Riddle’s return, his injury forced Dee Gordon — Miami’s usual starting second baseman — to play shortstop thanks to a barrage of injuries that have placed three Marlins infielders on the disabled list.
Riddle said despite the injuries and Miami’s recent struggles, he’s trying to heed Mattingly’s message of hope.
“It sucks losing. That’s for sure,” Riddle said. “But we’ve just gotta stay positive.”
THIS AND THAT
▪ Justin Bour hadn’t homered off a lefty. Ever. Not once in 123 major-league at-bats. That changed on Saturday in Miami’s 3-1 loss to Atlanta when Bour rocketed an Eric O’Flaherty pitch into the right-field bleachers. On Sunday he cooled off, going 0 for 4.
▪ Giancarlo Stanton’s frustration became visible on Saturday when he slammed his bat and punched the outfield grass. On Sunday, those frustrations got worse. At least at first.
Facing two strikes with two men on in the first inning, Stanton took a called strike three that he wasn’t happy about.
But Stanton hit the seventh-inning double that set up Tyler Moore’s game-winning home run.
▪ The Marlins are 6-1 when backup catcher Ellis is in the lineup.
▪ Mattingly had been tinkering with his lineup, hitting his pitcher eighth and second baseman Gordon ninth in Miami’s previous four games.
But on Sunday he returned to a more traditional lineup, with Gordon leading off and the pitcher hitting ninth.
▪ Monday: Marlins RHP Dan Straily (1-3, 4.03 ERA) vs. Houston Astros RHP Joe Musgrove (2-3, 5.02), 7:10 p.m., Marlins Park.