June 30, 2009
Five weeks ago Ricky Nolasco(notes) was the guy killing your season. Today, he's the arm pitching you back into contention. Queue the Dennis Green clip – Nolasco, in the end, is who we thought he was, one of the most dynamic pitchers in the National League.
Nolasco carried a shameful 9.07 ERA when the Marlins optioned him to Triple-A in late May, but it's been a redemption song since he came back to the majors. He won his third consecutive start Monday against Washington, retiring the last 13 men he faced over an eight-inning gem (4 H, 2 R, 0 BB, 8 K). Nolasco was ahead in the count all night and needed just 106 pitches – basically one for every Florida fan in attendance on this drizzly evening. He's fashioned a tidy 1.91 ERA and 0.97 WHIP over his last five starts, with 33 strikeouts (and just five walks) over 33 innings. Ace numbers, indeed. He's got a tasty matchup on the weekend, getting Pittsburgh at home.
Stats are one thing, but Nolasco was just as impressive to the eye on Monday night. While he didn't consistently have his best fastball (Ryan Zimmerman(notes) clocked one out of the county in the second), Nolasco was able to throw his slider and curve for strikes all night and he changed speeds brilliantly. The Nats took a bunch of defensive swings and in truth they were lucky to get their second run (courtesy of a fluke infield hit). Had the pitcher's spot not been due up to lead off the bottom of the eighth, Nolasco probably could have gone the route.
While Nolasco's start wasn't that much of a surprise given his recent success, it was a stunner to see Scott Olsen(notes) sparkle on the other side (7 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 0 BB, 7 K). Olsen was making his first turn off shoulder problems and he certainly looked healthy; his slider was biting all night and he had a few extra ticks on his fastball (getting into the 90s). It's going to take more than one strong appearance for me to buy into the Olsen story – he's been mediocre for far too long – but this start at least puts him back on the scouting radar. Let's see what he's able to do with the Braves this weekend
The other story of note from this duel came from the top of the ninth inning, when Fredi Gonzalez spun the closing carousel again. Southpaw Dan Meyer(notes) had a shot to close out a two-run victory but Gonzalez gave him the hook when two of four men reached; surprisingly, it was a pair of singles from lefties Nick Johnson(notes) and Adam Dunn(notes) that forced Meyer out. Leo Nunez(notes) entered and sealed the deal, getting Josh Willingham(notes) to fly out to deep center.
• The Cubs finally got to use their blueprint from the winter in Monday's 3-1 victory over Pittsburgh. Rich Harden(notes) started things off with seven strong frames (9 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 9 K), Carlos Marmol(notes) and Kevin Gregg(notes) worked a perfect inning each, and Milton Bradley(notes) (two hits, RBI) sparked the offense. Jake Fox(notes) also had a hand in the victory (3-1-2-0, plus a walk); it will be interesting to see what his role becomes when Aramis Ramirez(notes) is ready to play in July.
• Has Rick Porcello(notes) hit the rookie wall? He's got just 12 whiffs over his last six turns, and he didn't strike anyone out in a mediocre effort against Oakland Monday (4.1 IP, 9 H, 5 R, 2 BB). His ERA crept up to 3.90 after the poor turn, and you're losing ground with his 1.42 WHIP. A heavy ground-ball trend (56.9 percent) has been cushioning Porcello most of the year, but not all of the secondary numbers back his case; his FIP has been trading in the high 4s most of the year (it was 4.82 entering Monday). I'd buy stock in Porcello's career prospects for sure, but I'm concerned over what we might see as he circulates around the league for a second and third time. Caveat emptor.
• Don't brush off Gavin Floyd's(notes) impressive start in Cleveland on Monday (7.2 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 5 K); the Indians entered the night as the third-highest scoring club in the majors behind the Rays and Yankees. Floyd has been one of the AL's best starters over the last six weeks, quietly posting a 1.39 ERA and 0.91 WHIP over that span along with 46 strikeouts. His overall stats aren't as good as they were in 2008, but the component stats defend Floyd this time around (it was the opposite last year). No one expects this recent surge to continue indefinitely, but he's a legitimate asset in a mixed league.
• Carlos Beltran(notes) got a second opinion on his ailing right knee Monday, the New York Daily News reports, and the doctor consulted just so happens to specialize in microfracture surgery. The Mets insist that's just a coincidence and there's no bigger story here. Stay tuned.
Speed Round: Aramis Ramirez (shoulder) is expected to begin a rehab assignment Thursday. … Colby Rasmus(notes) (hiatal hernia) was pulled from Monday's lineup, and it will be interesting to see how much he plays in the rest of the San Francisco series with two lefties coming over the next three days (southpaws have owned him all year). … Alexei Ramirez(notes) left Monday's game after taking a Chris Perez(notes) pitch off the helmet but he didn't seem concerned afterwards. Dexter Fowler(notes) also took a shot off the helmet in LA (courtesy of a Rafael Furcal(notes) throw), but was abe to stay in the game. … Josh Hamilton(notes) (abdomen) DHed for his first rehab game, going 1-for-4 with a stolen base. … Raul Ibanez(notes) (groin) probably won't be ready to come off the DL when first eligible Friday. … Scott Downs(notes) (toe) will do some throwing off a mound Tuesday, though it looks like a long shot that he'll be ready to go on the weekend. … Jeff Niemann(notes) allowed just one run over 7.1 innings at Toronto, outdueling Roy Halladay(notes), albeit he struck out just one. … There's nothing I can tell you about Tim Lincecum(notes) (shutout at St. Louis) and Jon Lester(notes) (7 IP, 0 R, 8 K) that you don't already know; do your sack dance in the comments. … Edwin Encarnacion(notes) (wrist) might be able to rejoin the Reds on the weekend, though Dusty Baker sets the timetable at 7-10 days. … The Dodgers and Rockies combined to use 14 pitchers in LA's 12-inning victory Monday. Much-rested Jonathan Broxton(notes) was in top from for his one inning (three strikeouts, a few 100-mph fastballs), while the Rockies finally gave Huston Street(notes) a day off after three straight days of work (he's got 13 appearances this month). … Rest was also the order of the night for J.P. Howell, who got two saves and a win on the weekend against Florida. Randy Choate picked up a one-batter rogue save north of the border, retiring Lyle Overbay to close out the Jays.