Nolasco a reliable presence atop Marlins' staff
Turnover leaves club with easy call for Opening Day starter against Nationals
MIAMI -- Seniority made the decision a rather easy one. Then again, so did Ricky Nolasco's years of service and previous success.
There was really little drama in the selection of Nolasco as the Marlins' Opening Day starter. It was a foregone conclusion well before Spring Training got under way.
With all of the roster turnover that took place in the offseason, Miami's rotation will have a much different look from this time last year. Nolasco, the 30-year-old right-hander who brings stability, is a familiar face.
Weeks ago, manager Mike Redmond announced Nolasco would get the ball at Nationals Park in the regular-season opener, which will be on Monday at 1:05 p.m. ET against Stephen Strasburg and the Nationals.
Entering his eighth big league season, Nolasco has been an unassuming presence in the organization. Many probably aren't aware, but he's also one of the most successful starters in franchise history. Nolasco possesses many of the Marlins' all-time records. He's the team's all-time leader in victories (76), innings pitches (1,113 1/3), strikeouts (911), appearances (195) and games started (179).
The low-key Nolasco understands the importance and the responsibility that comes with getting the ball first in Game 1.
"It means a lot," Nolasco said. "It means that everybody in this room, including coaches and staff, is confident that you will be about to go out there for this first game and set the tone for the season. Obviously, if you do good or bad, it's not going to set the tone, but it's just the confidence that people have in you to be able to take that ball. It's an honor for all starting pitchers."
Handling the hysteria of Opening Day is nothing new for Nolasco. On April 6, 2009, the right-hander experienced the thrill of starting the first game, and he emerged victorious. The Marlins defeated the Nats, 12-6, at Sun Life Stadium that afternoon.
Nolasco was staked to an early six-run lead, and Emilio Bonifacio had a breakout game, going 4-for-5 with an inside-the-park home run and four runs scored.
"I recall a lot of energy," Nolasco said. "The announcements, the flyover and the crowd was going crazy. It pumps you up. We got off to a good start with Bonifacio scoring a bunch of runs.
"Opening Day, whether you are pitching, whether you are pinch-hitting, whatever it is, when you're on the team, it's something special. It will be good to go back and remember when you are done. But right now, I'm just focusing on going out there and doing what I can to give my team a good chance to win the game."
The Marlins aren't looking for a heroic effort from the veteran righty. He doesn't possess an upper-90s fastball or the game's best curveball. What Nolasco does have is a knack for winning, which he's demonstrated since he was a rookie in 2006.
"He knows how to pitch," Redmond said. "He knows the league. I think he will definitely help some of our young guys about how to pitch certain hitters in certain situations. That experience, we don't have a lot of that, whether it is in the bullpen or with our starters. He's that guy who definitely our young guys will look to for a little guidance."
The 2006 Marlins had one of the most improbable seasons in club history. Like Miami's 2013 team, the '06 club was loaded with young players not given any chance to win. Nolasco opened his first year in the big leagues in the bullpen before becoming part of the rotation.
As a rookie, Nolasco also became part of Major League history. Nolasco, Josh Johnson, Anibal Sanchez and Scott Olsen became the first quartet of rookies on the same team to post at least 10 wins in the same season.
In 2006, the Marlins were managed by Joe Girardi, who had a hands-on approach to help his young players respond.
"I remember Joe doing a really good job of helping us, like making visits to the mound," Nolasco said. "He came out a lot when the pitching coach usually would. He'd try to help calm me down. In between starts, he was checking up on us. He did a really good job with that."
The staff ace in 2006 was Dontrelle Willis.
"Dontrelle was very loose, and he helped us become comfortable," Nolasco said. "Me and the other three [rookie starters] were all in the same position, just trying to establish ourselves. We were all in the same situation, so we knew what each other was going through."
Game 1 will be an immediate test against the team that won the National League East a year ago and features Strasburg, who has arguably the best pure stuff in the NL.
"It's an honor to be able to do it again, and hopefully get another win, like the last one," Nolasco said.