03/05/2013 7:31 PM ET
Nicasio seeking command of offspeed pitches
By Owen Perkins / Special to MLB.com
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Juan Nicasio has been hit or miss for the Rockies in three Cactus League starts, sandwiching a scoreless start with two perfect innings between two appearances that left much to be desired.
Monday on the road against the Mariners, Nicasio was lacking command, throwing three innings of three-run ball, giving up three walks and four hits, including a three-run shot from Raul Ibanez.
"I wasn't sharp," Nicasio said. "I threw a lot of balls. That's what happens when you get behind hitters."
In his strong second start, Nicasio threw mostly fastballs, but the third time out he was focused on his secondary pitches.
"I threw a lot of sliders and more changeups, but only two or three for strikes," said Nicasio, who sees command of his off-speed pitches as the prime indicator that he's pitching well. "For me [the key] is throwing my breaking ball consistently for a strike. I can throw my fastball wherever I want to. Getting my slider and my changeup down [is critical]."
Nicasio made his big league debut in May 2011, but was limited to 13 starts when he was hit by a line drive on the pitcher's mound in August, breaking his neck. His comeback campaign in '12 was limited to 11 starts when he went on the disabled list on June 3 with a strained left knee.
"He's another one of our guys that's going to be a process, working his way back after missing a lot of time," manager Walt Weiss said. "He threw the ball really well last time out. The next step for him is just commanding his stuff consistently."
Francis continues to cruise in spring
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- He laughs off any comments making too much of his spring success, but early or not, it's hard to argue with a perfect 0.00 ERA after three Cactus League appearances for Jeff Francis.
"The results were really good today, but there are still some things with my fastball command I'm missing on, and I think was able to make up for that with some good off-speed pitches when I was behind in the count," Francis said. "You have to be as hard on yourself as you can and make sure that you're getting ready to do the things that will help you succeed in the season."
After the first two batters of the game, Francis was the only one in the park who was hard on the left-hander. Even the Cubs went down softly, with starting pitcher Scott Feldman scrapping off the only hit in four frames as Francis retired eight in a row to open the game and 11-of-12 in his full outing.
"I got away with a couple in the first inning, definitely," Francis said regarding two drives to the warning track in left from the first two batters he faced. "The first out was a changeup I left in the zone. I think it just cut a bit off the barrel of the bat, just barely missed it. The second out was a ball just down the middle, and I think he just got under it a tiny bit. As a pitcher you know when you get away with a couple like that. You have a second chance to sort of re-focus yourself and make good pitches."
Francis' return to Colorado has been something of a second chance for the No. 1 Draft pick who never made an Opening Day start, but whose 17 wins in 2007 tied a franchise record at the time and propelled him to be the Game 1 starter in the Rockies' only World Series appearance. After a year and a half in Kansas City, he came back to Colorado in June '12 and is already in fine form a week into March.
"Jeff looked great," manager Walt Weiss said. "I've seen Jeff really good. I was around since we drafted him. He does what we're looking for. He pitches at the bottom of the zone, he's got a good changeup, which is really important, not only in our place, but in general. A changeup changes an at-bat for a hitter. And he commands it very well. He knows what he's doing. Kind of reminds me of Tommy Glavine. I played behind Tommy for years and years, and there are some similarities in the approach to pitching."
Francis might laugh again at the comparison, but for a Cubs lineup that found him unflappable, there was nothing funny in facing the 32-year-old Canadian native as he secured his spot in the Rockies rotation.
Cassevah slated for simulated game Friday
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Rockies newest acquisition is getting used to the Colorado clubhouse as he eases into the Rockies pitching plan. Bobby Cassevah threw a bullpen session Monday and is slated for a simulated game Friday.
"I'll get used to it," Cassevah said of his new environment after spending the first nine years of his professional career in the Angels organization. "I enjoyed my time with the Angels, I love everybody over there, but I felt like it was a better position for me to come over here."
The Angels outrighted the 27-year-old right-hander on Friday, and after he declined an assignment to Triple-A, the Rockies signed the sinkerballer to a Minor League contract. He made 50 relief appearances in parts of three big league seasons, and boasts a 65.9 percent ground-ball ratio, a figure that bodes well for pitching in Coors Field.
"I really rely on my sinker; that's my best pitch," Cassevah said. "I just try to throw down the middle and get easy ground balls early in the counts."
Though his big league experience has all been out of the 'pen, he went down to the Arizona Fall League after last season and made six starts, posting a 3.13 ERA while yielding eight walks against 18 strikeouts in 23 innings. He's not wedded to a role in the rotation or as a reliever, but he's confident he can fill either.
"[The Rockies expect me to] just go in there and compete for a spot, whether it be in the bullpen or competing for a starting job," Cassevah said. "I hope to get stretched out and compete for a spot no matter where it is."
• Todd Helton laced a ground-rule double down the left-field line and over the fence for his first hit of the Cactus Season, toying with Feldman as he ripped foul after foul into the right field seats then went the other way to plate the game's first run.
"It was vintage Todd Helton," Weiss said. "Foul off a bunch of pitches then shoots one down the left-field line for a double. The guy tried to lock him a couple times with a fastball in and Todd turned on it and took his 'A' swing and pulled it foul. He's got such great plate coverage, he always has. He's got the pitcher right where he wants him in those situations. It's like a cat-and-mouse game, and he usually wins those."
• Christian Friedrich, the Rockies No. 1 Draft pick in 2008, pitched his third bullpen of the spring Tuesday as he works his way back from a stress fracture in his back that cut his '12 debut season in the big leagues short. He was scheduled to throw 50 pitches, with a five-minute rest after the first 25 to get him acclimated to sitting between innings.
"They said I might be involved in [Friday's simulated game]," Friedrich said. "We're not rushing it. I want to see hitters as fast as possible, but we want to make sure another important part is getting stiff after sitting down.
"The arm's been healthy the whole time. It's just making sure we're taking it step-by-step, which is good and cautious, but my patience is tested."
• Wilin Rosario launched his first home run of the Cactus League over the left-center-field fence Tuesday, but he was at least as impressive behind the plate, working a good game that drew notice from both Weiss and Francis, who commended their chemistry as battery mates.
"It's a crucial part of the game for a catcher, and it's been a point of emphasis for us, not only for Wilin but for any pitcher and any catcher that's out there for us," Weiss said of Rosario's game-calling. "To see a veteran like Jeff working as quickly as he did, there's something to be said for what fingers Wilin's putting down."
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.