03/04/12 8:45 PM EST
Nicasio takes another big step in comeback
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
But the best part of his performance during an intrasquad game on Sunday was not his two scoreless innings, his electric slider, his effective changeup, or even a fastball that sat between 93 and 95 mph and touched 97.
What's most pleasing to manager Jim Tracy is Nicasio is no longer merely someone making a tremendous comeback from the events of last Aug. 5, when he suffered a fractured C-1 vertebrae after taking a line drive off his temple during a game against the Nationals.
According to Tracy, the comeback is complete. Now, Nicasio is just a competitor for the Opening Day starting rotation.
"When your head trainer [Keith Dugger] says to you that there is no more discussion about Juan Nicasio, as far as medical updates, it's Juan Nicasio, period," Tracy said.
Nicasio, 25, eliminated the concern by showing no fear.
"One of the things you're looking for is his reaction as he goes to throw the pitch," Tracy said. "Is he going to finish the pitch, or is he going to start fielding his position too soon to protect himself -- and as a result, you see some recoil? Actually, it was a better Juan Nicasio than the kid that came to us from [Double-A] Tulsa, right now -- more mature, more convinced that he belongs at the Major League level."
Nicasio said he no longer thinks about balls whizzing by him. The second hit against him, Hector Gomez's single, was up the middle. It wasn't that close to Nicasio, but someone worried about being hit would have flinched, anyhow. Nicasio didn't react.
The only time he thinks about it is when asked.
"I'm not scared," Nicasio said. "I'm working hard. It's my dream, pitching again. I don't know if I'll make the rotation, but I'm working hard."
Chatwood displays competitive fire
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The competitive attitude right-handed pitcher Tyler Chatwood demonstrated last year with the Angels, while pitching 142 innings as a rookie, led the Rockies to trade for him during the offseason. Not that it was planned, but Chatwood displayed that trait during Sunday morning's intrasquad game.
Chatwood, 22, dealt with a runner on second with no outs during the back end of his two-inning stint. But Chatwood forced Tyler Colvin into an infield grounder, then escaped the inning in an odd fashion. A pitch squirted by catcher Wilin Rosario, but Chatwood covered the plate and tagged out Brendan Harris.
"A jam kind of gets you back into compete mode," Chatwood said. "You don't want to give up a run, even if it is an intrasquad game. It's fun to get back into that.
"Today was the first day I threw my slider to hitters when they didn't know what was coming. I was seeing how they react to it. I like it. I got some good reads on how it was coming out. They got some bad swings, some mis-hit balls, so it was pretty good."
Chatwood is part of the competition for starting rotation spots, but manager Jim Tracy said before Spring Training that he would like to use two bullpen spots for starters who could pitch long relief or spot start.
Sunday's four-inning game ended in a scoreless draw, which meant all the pitchers performed well. Juan Nicasio struck out two, gave up two hits and hit a batter. He also picked a runner off second base. Reliever Rex Brothers gave up a single, struck out one and picked a runner off first. Relievers Edgmer Escalona and Mike Eckstrom had scoreless innings. Prospect Edwar Cabrera, who fanned 217 in 167 innings at two Class A stops last season, gave up one hit but forced two potential double-play grounders, the second of which pulled him out of his inning.
Nieves showcases defensive prowess
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies non-roster catching hopeful Wil Nieves made a good first impression in Saturday's 1-1, 10-inning tie with the D-backs by throwing out two runners -- Adam Eaton on a steal attempt and Gerardo Parra trying to advance on a pitch in the dirt.
Nieves, 34, who appeared in 20 games with the Brewers last season and has made 282 appearances since 2002, could be an important figure for the Rockies. If catching prospect Wilin Rosario struggles or the Rockies deem that he needs development time -- he made his debut last season, but skipped Triple-A -- Nieves could work with veteran free-agent signee Ramon Hernandez as part of the club's catching tandem.
Nieves has learned not to stress about such prospects.
"This is my 17th professional season, and I've learned over the years," Nieves said. "In the beginning, you stress about what's going to happen. But I've learned that sometimes in the Minor Leagues, when you least expect it, that's when you get called up. So you have to be ready.
"I think it was 2009 with Washington [when Nieves played in a career-high 72 games in the Majors], I didn't have a good Spring Training. I played good defense, but I didn't do well hitting, yet I made the team. Another [time], when I was with the Angels in 2003, I hit almost .500 in Spring Training and didn't make the team.
"I'm a really positive guy, and I put all my energy into positive things."
Rosario has excited the Rockies with his offensive potential, but must show he has made strides in his receiving. Nieves is a .221 hitter in the Majors, but defense has never been a question.
"He's a guy that's always had great defense," Hernandez said. "The guy has always been a good defensive catcher. He's a guy who's made his mark, and you know what he's gonna be behind the plate. If you give him time, you're gonna be thrown out."
Tracy content to ease vets into action
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies manager Jim Tracy said he will ease some of his veteran position players -- specifically first basemen Todd Helton, 38, and Jason Giambi, 41, and Casey Blake, 38, into Cactus League action.
Tracy said he is considering playing Helton on Wednesday against the Giants at Scottsdale Stadium, but he isn't committing to that until he sees the Giants' pitching schedule. Blake will play on Tuesday in Mesa against the Cubs.
Giambi will get a couple of at-bats on Monday afternoon as a designated hitter against the D-backs at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.