MIA@STL: Nicolino pitches five frames of one-run ball

JUPITER, Fla. -- When Justin Nicolino was growing up, one of the players he looked up to was Juan Pierre. Growing up an avid baseball fan in Orlando, Nicolino even got to meet Pierre when he came to Lake Buena Vista to play the Braves during Spring Training.

In the Marlins' Grapefruit League finale against the Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium on Thursday, he and Pierre took the field for the same team.

The 21-year-old left-hander, the front-runner to open Class A Jupiter's season on April 4, started in his Marlins debut.

In five innings, Nicolino allowed only a first-inning run, scattering six hits while striking out three and walking none in Miami's 1-0 loss. He threw 67 pitches, 41 for strikes.

"Getting to experience that -- getting to be in that clubhouse and the dugout today -- I can't ask for much more, especially to end Spring Training," Nicolino said.

When he received the news from pitching coordinator Wayne Rosenthal on Monday that he'd be starting, his parents were already scheduled to watch him pitch against the Mets in a Minor League scrimmage. They made the trip down from Orlando.

The 6-foot-3, 160 pounder, drafted by the Blue Jays in the second round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft out of University High in Orlando, was acquired in November's 12-player trade between Miami and Toronto.

Rated by MLB.com as the fourth-best prospect in Miami's organization, he is ranked No. 72 overall and No. 7 of all left-handed pitchers.

Last season in the Midwest League, Nicolino went 10-4 with a league-best 2.46 ERA in 28 games -- 22 starts -- for Class A Lansing. In 124 1/3 innings, he walked just 21 batters and struck out 119. He was named Topps Mid Player of the Year in 2012.

Marlins manager Mike Redmond, who was Nicolino's manager at Lansing, wanted to give the young pitcher the experience and see how he responded.

"One of the things I loved about managing him was that he was such a great competitor," Redmond said. "When he was out there and took the ball he was trying to win and he showed that today. A lot of our guys were pleasantly surprised and amazed by how poised he was for a young kid in a big stage.

"For a young kid to come up here and show that much poise and confidence facing such a big league lineup -- a legitimate big league lineup -- that was good to see. … Huge test, and he passed for sure."

Rehabbing knee, LoMo hopes to be back in May

Morrison on favorite thing about playing for Marlins

JUPITER, Fla. -- Marlins first baseman Logan Morrison stood pat Thursday as teammates packed their gear inside the clubhouse on the final day of Grapefruit League action.

This past September, Morrison had a second surgery on his right knee in less than a year. Veteran Casey Kotchman, who signed a Minor League deal with an invitation to Spring Training in February, will start in the place of Morrison, who will open the season on the disabled list.

"I just hope to be in the big leagues by early, middle May," Morrison said. "I don't really know how that's going to fall or when I need to start playing down here. You have to go through the whole production of play a day, play three innings, don't play the next day, then play two days in a row and don't play that day."

If the team feels he will not be ready until closer to June, there is a chance Morrison will be placed on the 60-day DL, which could open a 40-man roster spot.

"I didn't anticipate it would be this long," president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said. "I'm not sure LoMo did either, but it is what it is and we've just got to get him healthy. He's starting to pick up some baseball activity, which is a good thing, he's just got to get on his legs."

The 25-year-old, who will begin running on the field and anticipates taking ground balls next week, is at 90 percent on the anti-gravity treadmill. He has swung a bat in the cages, but has yet to take batting practice.

Since a player only gets 20 rehabilitation days, Morrison will begin his progression in extended rehab before spending time at either Class A Jupiter or Double-A Jacksonville.

"It's been like the offseason," Morrison said of the spring. "All I do is work out. I get to talk baseball with the guys and be in the dugout, but for sure it's frustrating, because it's the same old story. Hopefully, once it's behind me, it's behind me for good, and laugh about it in 10 years."

Morrison was limited to 93 games a year ago -- bothered by that knee -- finishing with a .230 batting average, 11 home runs and 36 RBIs.

"I don't know when it starts to turn into anticipation -- right now it's more just frustration," Morrison said. "I took swings off a tee for the first time in eight months and I got really excited. When they told me I could start running in the bubble, in the [anti-gravity] treadmill, I got really excited. I think when I start playing -- even if it's in an extended [spring game] -- I'll be excited, and then that'll go away, and then let's go to Double-A. And then I'll be excited, and that'll go away and I'll be excited."

Worth noting

• Left fielder Juan Pierre had a signed No. 20 Lou Brock jersey hanging from his locker as he packed for the start of the regular season.

Pierre, who said he's had the jersey for 10 years, noticed Brock in the Cardinals' dugout during a game last week and decided to bring the jersey from home.

Though he had a clubhouse attendant have Brock sign it, Pierre did meet the Hall of Famer. The jersey, which Pierre used to wear on Throwback Fridays, will now be framed.

"I've been a fan," Pierre said. "I'm from Louisiana, he's from Louisiana, and he stole bases. I didn't physically get to watch him, but I saw the highlights. That's a guy I always looked up. It's pretty cool. I don't get star struck too much, but it's cool for a guy like that to sign."

• Donovan Solano, who missed a little more than a week with a tight lower back, started at second base and hit second in the order for the Grapefruit League finale Thursday afternoon against the Cardinals. He was 0-for-3.

Solano played in a Triple-A game at Roger Dean Stadium on Wednesday. In 13 spring games, he is 14-for-39 (.359) with eight RBIs.

• Redmond has decided how his starting rotation will get work leading up to Opening Day.

Right-hander Henderson Alvarez, scheduled as the fourth starter, will throw a simulated game in Jupiter on Sunday. Right-hander Kevin Slowey, set to be the fifth man, will make the trip to New Orleans and throw a bullpen. He will be available Opening Day if the team needs him. Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, who will pitch Wednesday's game in Washington, will throw a bullpen on Friday.