It’s been a season of ups and downs for rookie Justin Nicolino, a 23-year-old lefty who is trying to find his footing in the big leagues.
Monday was one of his good nights, the kind the Marlins are hoping to witness more often between now and the end of the season. Nicolino recorded his second major league win as the Marlins held on for a 6-2 victory over the Brewers.
Derek Dietrich belted a two-run homer, Dee Gordon drove in a pair of runs, and the Marlins won their second straight.
But Nicolino turned in the most notable performance.
"He's a guy who's not afraid of the results," said manager Dan Jennings. "He throws the ball over the plate."
After winning his major league debut in June, a rough outing in his second start resulted in Nicolino returning to the minors. But with their starting rotation in tatters due to injuries and trades, the Marlins are giving pitchers like Nicolino a chance to audition.
They don’t have any other choice.
Now that Jose Fernandez, Henderson Alvarez, Jarred Cosart and David Phelps are all sitting on the disabled list, young prospects like Nicolino, along with Adam Conley and Kendry Flores are getting shots to prove themselves.
Nicolino, Flores and Conley -- who will get the ball on Tuesday against Milwaukee -- are all rookies and all members of the starting rotation, at least in the short term as the Marlins await the return of Fernandez and Cosart.
Nicolino did his part on Monday, though, limiting the Brewers to two runs over 6 2/3 innings. And he did it in his typical style, mixing his pitches and relying on his control to hold the Brewers in check.
"I've been using my off-speed pitches in any count, which is something you've got to do up here," Nicolino said. "For me, whenever I have command of those pitches, it's easier to go out there and get those outs."
Nicolino will never wow anyone with his fastball, and knows that. He struck out three batters Monday and now has just seven whiffs in his 23 1/3 innings in the majors.
"I'm not an overpowering guy and I'm not going to punch out many people," Nicolino said. "So if I can go out there and get guys to hit my pitches, and get a fly ball out or ground ball out, that's what I'm going to do."
While Nicolino hasn't spent a lot of time in the majors, he was around long enough to talk to veteran Dan Haren, another soft thrower who also depends on hitting his spots with his pitches.
"I picked his brain a little bit, and how he went about his business of preparing for a game was something that I picked up," Nicolino said. "Just the way he went about it was a true pro, and that's something I'm going to have to learn how to do throughout my career."
After falling behind 1-0 in the second, Nicolino was handed the lead in the third when Gordon drove in two runs with a single. The Marlins made it 4-1 in the fourth on Dietrich’s eighth home run and added another run in the fifth on Martin Prado's sacrifice fly after Gordon doubled to lead off the inning.
Nicolino ran into a bit of trouble in the fifth. After issuing a one-out walk to Jason Rogers, he gave up a single to Jean Segura. Nicolino managed to punch out Jonathan Lucroy with a caught-looking strikeouts.
But Ryan Braun's two-out single scored Rogers and prevented Nicolino from emerging from the inning unscathed.
The Brewers could do no more, though.
Jennings turned to his bullpen with two outs in the seventh, bringing in Bryan Morris to get the third out. Mike Dunn worked the eighth and A.J. Ramos took over in the ninth even though it was a non-save situation.
Ramos had pitched the day before in St. Louis.
"Sometimes A.J. has struggled when he has sit for a long time," Jennings explained. "I know we used him yesterday, so we felt like we could run him out there because of who they had in the lineup. We wanted to use him there in that capacity to keep him sharp."