Justin Nicolino believes he can overcome his recent pitching woes and will be much stronger when he does.
But Nicolino will have to do so for the immediate future at the Triple A level.
“I think you find out a lot about who you are when you struggle, and I think this is a true testament to that,” Nicolino said on Saturday.
The Marlins optioned their struggling starter to New Orleans on Sunday and called up 28-year-old right-hander Paul Clemens, who will start in Nicolino’s previously scheduled spot on Monday night against the Rockies.
Nicolino, a 24-year-old lefty, has gone 2-4 this season with a 5.17 ERA in 55 2/3 innings, and his performances have worsened over the past month.
In his past seven starts, Nicolino has a 6.44 ERA, allowing 26 earned runs in 36 1/3 innings.
Nicolino has always relied more on location than overpowering velocity to the plate, drawing outs mostly off contact — his 4.37 strikeouts-per-nine-innings ratio ranks lowest in the majors among pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched.
But Nicolino gave up a combined 31 hits in his past three starts, including double-digit amounts in his past two, which resulted in five earned runs allowed each time.
“The biggest thing is really just pitch execution,” Nicolino said. “If it’s the right pitch, it’s just in a bad location. That’s not on anyone except me. What we’re doing in between every start is where we need to be, I just need it to translate to the game.”
Nicolino opened the season at Triple A but was called up on April 27 after Jarred Cosart was sent to the minors following his own poor start. Cosart is on the Minor League disabled list with an oblique strain.
Nicolino won his first two starts, including a stellar outing in Los Angeles in which he pitched 7 1/3 shutout innings and allowed only two hits.
He made 12 starts as a rookie last year, compiling a 5-4 record and a 4.01 ERA.
“Mechanically nothing is going to change, it’s just better execution of pitches, and I think once I get that it’s going to result in big games. I think I just have to get back to the basics,” he said.
“It’s been very frustrating because you want to contribute to the team’s success as well. Guys are giving you runs and you’re giving them right back up. I think you go through a little rough patch and you find out who you are.”
NO RELATION TO ROGER
Clemens is not related to pitching great Roger Clemens, although he did meet him while pitching in Houston.
“I’ll get asked all kinds of questions like is he your uncle, brother, dad, cousin, grandfather?” Clemens said. “But no, no relation. I had the pleasure of meeting him and working with him in Houston, and he really liked my arm. He was really good to me.”
Clemens, a native of Columbia, South Carolina, was originally drafted by the Braves in 2008 and made his major-league debut in 2013 for the Astros. That season, Clemens started five games and made 30 appearances out of the bullpen, compiling a 4-7 record with a 5.40 ERA in 73 1/3 innings. The following season, he pitched 24 2/3 innings in relief and posted a 5.84 ERA.
After stints in the minor leagues with the Phillies and Royals, Clemens signed a minor-league contract with the Marlins in November.
He made 14 starts for New Orleans and went 6-4 with a 4.30 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and compiled 66 strikeouts and 25 walks. Clemens went 2-0 with a 2.49 ERA over his past three starts.
“It’s exciting to come up, especially as a starter,” Clemens said. “I’m still working on some things, but I feel like I’m getting better every day. I’m really happy where I’m at with three of my pitches right now.”
▪ Monday: Marlins RHP Clemens (season debut) vs. Colorado Rockies LHP Jorge De La Rosa (3-4, 7.61 ERA), 7:10 p.m., Marlins Park.
▪ Tuesday: Marlins RHP Jose Fernandez (9-3, 2.57) vs. Atlanta Braves RHP Bud Norris (2-7, 4.81), 7:10 p.m., Marlins Park.