Hicks is living the dream with transition to Giants' rotation

Hicks is living the dream with transition to Giants' rotation originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The clubhouse at Scottsdale Stadium is full of broad-shouldered starting pitchers who sit in the mid-to-upper 90s. But there's just one other pitcher -- Camilo Doval -- who can speak the exact same language as Jordan Hicks.

As he described a lengthy bullpen session on Friday afternoon, Hicks talked of gradually bumping his velocity up so that he's ready for a live batting practice session, when the added adrenaline of having a hitter in the box will mean an extra couple of ticks. Of course, for a player who has touched 105 mph in the big leagues, the "dialed-back" fastball early in camp still is sitting at 96 mph.

Hicks wanted to reach that point on Friday because he knows he'll likely be at 97-99 mph when he faces hitters for the first time next week.

That latter range should be the norm this season, even as Hicks transitions to life as a full-time starter after signing a four-year, $44 million contract last month. He said that in the past, he maintained his velocity even while getting up to eight innings in the minor leagues.

Hicks completed at least six innings in 11 of his starts in the minors in 2017, the year before the St. Louis Cardinals brought him up to be one of the game's hardest-throwing relievers.

"I was throwing 99 in those last few innings," Hicks recalled. "I've always felt like I keep my velo throughout the game, especially if I'm 100 percent built up."

Asked about Hicks pacing himself as he gets through starts, manager Bob Melvin smiled and said it's "relative pacing."

"So, maybe down from 105 to 99 or 100 or something like that," Melvin said.

The velocity will always be the big weapon, but for Hicks to succeed as a starter, he'll need to get quicker outs. He throws five pitches -- a four-seam fastball, sinker, splitter, traditional slider and sweeper -- but one will be the early focus.

Hicks has already talked to Logan Webb about the heavy use of his sinker, and he plans to approach games the same way.

"If he can get early, quick outs with his sinker, he's going to be able to pitch deep into games, and then you get to two strikes and he has the sweeper and splitter that he can miss bats with," catcher Patrick Bailey said.

Bailey caught Hicks for the first time on Friday and described the movement on his pitches as "nasty." The Giants know Hicks has the pure stuff to be dominant, and they're betting big that he can transition to starting and help lead a very young rotation.

For his part, Hicks isn't worried about the extra work. He said he was a starter in three Spring Trainings with the Cardinals, so he's used to getting built up for a heavier workload. As camp starts, he's fully healthy and ready to settle into the rotation, and in Melvin, he might have the perfect manager.

Melvin already has mentioned a couple of times how the San Diego Padres gave Seth Lugo a chance to be a full-time starter for the first time in six years and watched him flourish. It's as much mental as physical, Melvin said.

"I liken it to Lugo. Lugo came in [last year] and said, 'I'm a starter. I don't want to hear about pitches, I don't want to hear about innings limits, I'm going to prepare to be a starter,'" Melvin said. "I think that's the same way Jordan is looking at it."

That was Hicks' approach to the offseason, too. He said several teams sought him as a starter and several others as a reliever. The Giants believed the whole time that Hicks could be signed to start games, and that matched the pitcher's mindset as he hit free agency.

"My whole life, this has been my dream," Hicks said of starting. "I'm fully embracing this."

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