3/21/2014 8:36 P.M. ET
Nicasio hopes to ride split-finger through seventh
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The seventh inning wasn't always seemingly guarded with a moat for Rockies right-hander Juan Nicasio.
Nicasio went seven innings four times and eight innings once in his first 13 career big league starts after being called up from Double-A Tulsa in 2011, before he sustained a fractured skull and broken neck when hit by a line drive on Aug. 5 of that year. In 2012, he went seven innings twice and into the seventh inning two other times. But last year in his first full big league season, he completed seven innings just twice and did not get past the sixth in any other of his 31 starts.
But now, Nicasio says, he has the pitch it takes to cross the drawbridge and slay the dragon.
The results were mixed in 5 2/3 innings of a no-decision against the Brewers on Thursday -- three strikeouts, three hits, three walks and three runs. He lost a 3-0 lead by giving up a two-run double with two outs in the fourth, and another couple of doubles led to a tying run in the sixth before manager Walt Weiss removed him with two out and a runner at third.
So is it the same old story? Or did the second inning -- when Nicasio used his new split-finger pitch with confidence to force an Aramis Ramirez fly ball, a Lyle Overbay grounder and a Caleb Gindl strikeout --foreshadow the new Nicasio?
Nicasio said the pitch was not a finished product but that it was effective if he did not try to do too much with it.
"I have more confidence in it because my arm speed is the same as my fastball and my slider," Nicasio said. "Right now I'm concentrating on throwing it down and in the middle and letting it move either way. I know I can make it go to one side or the other by changing the pressure with my fingers, but I don't have that yet. But it works fine when I throw it and let it move."
Nicasio reflects on Aroldis' injury
Any time a pitcher is hit with a line drive, it reminds Nicasio of the Aug. 5, 2011, incident when the line drive from the Nationals' Ian Desmond hit him in the right temple. He sustained a broken neck and a skull fracture, and quick work by the Rockies' training staff, EMTs and doctors most likely saved his life.
So Nicasio could identify with Reds pitcher Aroldis Chapman, who was hit in the face by a line drive on Wednesday night by the Royals' Salvador Perez. Chapman had surgery to repair facial fractures and was ruled to have a mild concussion.
"It's hard whenever I see that, because it reminds me," Nicasio said. "He doesn't have the same thing I did, which is good. I just hope he's going to be OK."
Bettis pitching way toward late-inning role
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies second-year right-hander Chad Bettis has not only put himself in prime consideration for an Opening Day roster spot, but he has manager Walt Weiss thinking about using him late in games.
Bettis put forth his seventh straight scoreless outing of the spring during Friday's 14-3 loss to the Indians at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. He entered in the seventh, and leadoff man Elliot Johnson reached on a fielding error by second baseman Rafael Ynoa. But Bettis forced a Mike Aviles double-play grounder and struck out Bryan LaHair.
There could be room for Bettis late in the game.
Beyond veteran closer LaTroy Hawkins, the right-handed setup situation could be fluid. Matt Belisle and Wilton Lopez are coming off struggles in 2013, and Belisle has had some rough spring outings, although he is admittedly experimenting. But Bettis' power fastball and changeup, with the occasional slider mixed in, is a repertoire that could work in the late innings.
"He has a good arm, his delivery is intact and you see some good results because of that," Weiss said. "When you've got that much power, those guys tend to gravitate toward the back end of the game."
Righty Tommy Kahnle, a Rule 5 pick from the Yankees, also had a scoreless inning Friday, lowering his spring ERA to 1.17.
Masset takes hill vs. Tribe feeling like 'old self'
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The bandage still covered his collarbone area, but on Friday a smile spread across the face of Rockies right-hander Nick Masset.
Masset has not pitched in the Majors since 2011 because of a shoulder injury that required surgery and a thoracic outlet syndrome condition that required surgery to remove an upper rib on the right side. He missed time early in the spring for the birth of a child, and he had recently been out because of surgery last Friday to clear a staph infection that entered where the rib was removed. Before the cleanup surgery, he had thrown one inning in an intrasquad game and one in a Cactus League game.
Finally, Masset made it to the mound Friday, and he gave up a run on two hits and a wild pitch in the fourth inning of a 14-3 loss to the Indians. There might not be enough time for Masset, a non-roster invitee, to earn an Opening Day spot. But Masset, one of the top right-handed setup men while with the Reds before his shoulder injury, has a power arm that could help the Rockies.
"We've been through some trials and tribulations so far this spring -- mostly good with the baby -- and then the staph infection popping up," Masset said. "There's no more staph on the outer surface now. There's no more staph, hopefully, in my body anymore.
"I got to repeat my mechanics, let my pitches work for themselves and shake off the nerves a little bit. Once I got out there, I felt like my old self. You never forget. You prepare yourself mentally and visualize getting hitters out. It's getting out there with the fans. It's a whole different beast when you're pitching in a game."
Masset said he was not sure how quickly he would be Major League-ready. The Rockies have had some younger power pitchers come through, but Masset does not seem worried whether there will be room for him when he is truly ready.
"I might have thought that when I was 21, but now I'm 31, and at this point I can just control what I can do," Masset said. "All I can do is prepare myself to be able to compete and do things I need to do to get hitters out."
First bullpen to be bittersweet for Chacin
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies right-hander Jhoulys Chacin plans to throw his first bullpen of Spring Training on Saturday -- the most telling step that he is past his shoulder injury and ready to begin his preparation for the season. But Chacin also finds himself preparing for a sad time.
While Chacin believes he can be ready in April -- the club has set May as the target for his season debut -- what is clear is that the club will break camp without him. It will be like watching all the other children go outside to play while he has to stay inside and study.
"It's going to be tough when they leave and I have to stay here," Chacin said. "I'm just trying to get better and get back soon."
On Thursday, Chacin threw at full speed. He was on the mound, and the catcher was in front of the plate. He has thrown a few gentle breaking pitches while playing catch, but he does not know when the Rockies will allow him to throw hard breaking pitches.