Juan Nicasio Wins a Rotation Spot, Ryan Vogelsong Moved to the Bullpen

BRADENTON, Fla. – After today’s game, Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle announced that Juan Nicasio will be a member of the rotation this year, with Ryan Vogelsong being informed today that he will move to the bullpen as a multi-inning reliever. This is a big change from the plans in December, when Vogelsong was signed as a starter, and Nicasio was brought on as a reliever and the number six starter.

“It’s a hard decision,” Hurdle said. “You’ve got a guy that has experience. And I told Ryan this wasn’t about him not performing well. It was about another guy really pitching the most effective we’ve ever seen him pitch, and trying to leverage that opportunity for him. This might be a window of opportunity for Juan Nicasio to get back in play, start again and go. That’s the Plan A coming out.”

Nicasio has been a big surprise this camp, showing better stuff than either Jeff Locke or Ryan Vogelsong, and showing much better command of his stuff. The Pirates wanted him taking his reliever mentality to the rotation, focusing on one pitch at a time, and one batter at a time, rather than focusing on having to spread his stuff out over five or six innings. Nicasio talked about that on Sunday, and really seemed to embrace the concept. Hurdle said that this probably led to his success.

Hurdle also said that Nicasio has done better commanding his pitches, and pitching down in the zone.

“The combination of those two things, we know he always had good stuff,” Hurdle said. “When you repeat your delivery and you’re able to work down in the zone like that, that leads to success.”

Nicasio will make one more start on Friday, followed by Gerrit Cole making a start on Saturday. Both should be at Pirate City, as the minor leaguers still have camp days through the end of the weekend. After their starts, both will fly up and join the team for Opening Day.

Next week, Jon Niese will pitch on Tuesday, and Nicasio will pitch on Wednesday against the Cardinals. The rotation is up in the air after that, all dependent on how Cole’s start goes this weekend.

As for Vogelsong, there might be some questions about whether he can pitch in the bullpen. All spring, the Pirates have talked about how Vogelsong struggled moving back and forth between the rotation and bullpen, and would have success in a structured rotation role. Hurdle said that Vogelsong was disappointed, as would be expected, but that they explained to him how they’ve used long relievers in the past — and they typically end up helping out in a starting role eventually.

“He came here to win ballgames,” Hurdle said. “He expressed the same sentiments to me on the way out, that [he’s] going to do everything [he] can to help us win ballgames, and work to have a starting opportunity if that presents itself. He was completely professional.”

With that decision made, the Pirates are down to three decisions remaining in camp: the final bench spot, and two reliever spots, assuming Jared Hughes opens the season on the disabled list.

  • Now that the Nicasio, Vogelsong, Locke issue has been temporarily settled, how many starts will Niese get to prove he is a fixture in the rotation? Is it true his spring performance was by far the worst among the starting pitcher rotation candidates? I can’t locate full statistics. What is the word on him from PP staff at spring training? Was he really that bad?

    • Oh, he’s not going anywhere. Huntington won’t be admitting a mistake that large.

      As for his spring performance, no sign of his stuff coming back from peak years and he struggled to miss bats worse than even last season, when he was the 4th most hittable starter in the Majors.

  • Nicasio earned a spot in the rotation and should be given enough starts to see what he can do. I seem to remember that Vogelsong had several good starts, and that his numbers were blown up by one really bad start. I’m thinking that with Locke and maybe Niese, also, in the rotation, Vogelsong will get regular appearances.

  • Nicasio really pitched like he Juan-ted a spot in the rotation. Well done by him.

  • Congrats to Juan Nicasio! Well deserved! Hopefully he can carry this into the regular season and keep the flow going!

  • I sure someone has mentioned this before but in hindsight, I think the Pirates signed Vogelsong after they were unable to sign Cahill.

    • Mid-December seems fairly early to settle for a guy like Vogelsong, but you could certainly be correct.

      When guys like Guthrie, Gee, Kendrick, Fausto all ended up settling for minor league deals, do you think Vogelsong would’ve even landed a guaranteed contract?

    • …and after they missed on Happ.

  • Juan Nicasio is the only one of the three that earned a spot in the rotation. Let’s hope that Locke doesn’t feel entitled and performs like a FOOTON.

  • I’m not a fan of this move for the following:
    – Nicasio in his last year (2014) as a starter had a road 4.78 ERA (1.62 WHIP); old man Vogelsong last year had a 4.50 ERA (1.40 WHIP) as a starter. I don’t really expect the miracle Ray fix for him
    – Of course Nicasio looked good in Spring Training. He is a hard thrower with a good breaking ball (and a non-existent change up). Spring training hitters aren’t prepared for that yet. He may get away with the first few starts, but my bet is that hitters will quickly catch up to his two trick act.
    – Taking Nicasio out of the pen at the same time we’re missing Hughes leaves the pen pretty weak. This could mean taxing Melancon and Watson in April when we need them in October

  • Good move. Got to give him a chance.

    And maybe Vogelsong can capture some Blanton magic in the pen in 2-inning stints. Hey we can dream right?

    • Excellent, excellent point, D.M. I have been thinking that same thing for quite some time now. At Vogey’s age, that may be a good ticket for him and the Pirates.

  • Color me pleasantly surprised

  • Vogelsong is in the wrong town if he wants to make the case that he deserves a slot in the rotation based on his body of work. He needs to come to grips that at his age most MLBers own a bar or a gym. Many are broke. If he embraces a BP role he can keep making boatloads of money for a couple more years. That said, if he really wants to gripe the Pirates could probably find a willing taker for his services out there. Might even fetch a Keon Broxton (LOL).

    • I’d be *extremely* interested to see how long it would’ve taken him to land a major league deal if Huntington hadn’t jumped the gun.

  • WOOOO!!!!!

  • domdidominic
    March 30, 2016 5:59 pm

    The only issue with this is Nicasio was much better in the pen and Vogelsong was better in the rotation.
    That being said, I do agree with the move. Nicasio was lights out this spring and deserves the spot. Really, looking at 10 times or 1/3 of the season before both or one of Glasnow/Taillon join the rotation. Ride the hot hand as long as you can and have a clear picture of who will be 6th/pen/jettisoned.

  • So — the season hasn’t even started and your ready to release our only currently viable option – Vogelsong- as a starting option?
    So — who do you start if Cole needs to miss a turn?
    So — what do you propose the Bucs do if one of the current starters is getting torched after 3 turns or so through the rotation.
    I understand that Vogelsong is not a Koufax or perhaps even a Zach Duke. Then again, he is our only current depth, we have slots available in the pen, and he is signed to a very cheap contract, particularly because he won’t reach his incentives if he is not starting.
    Shipping Vogelsong out now makes no sense.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    March 30, 2016 5:39 pm

    Niese with another less than stellar performance today against a Red Sox lineup that did not include many of their starters….no Ortiz, Ramirez, Boegarts, JBJ, etc. Rotation is a real concern….

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    March 30, 2016 5:36 pm

    Nicasio earned that spot, so good move putting him in the rotation. However, I think in the long term, his value will be greater in the bullpen. Maybe a Glasnow or Taillon will come up in June and take a spot and allow Nicasio to go to the bullpen.
    Now, why keep Vogelsong? That is a waste of a spot in the bullpen and on the 25 man roster.

    • Vogelsong is still valuable insurance in case of injury or poor performance.

    • Yeah, we should jump to put…..Lobstein as the long relief man.

      He’s our ticket to the playoffs!

  • Good to see. Would much rather have RV in a long man/mop up role.

    And, with three lefties in the rotation…it’ll be a nice “different look”.

    • There would’ve been 3 lefties in the rotation anyways…

      • Unless Locke was the one who’d lost the battle for the 4/5 spot 🙂

        But, what I was trying to say…and did so quite poorly…was that RV has more of a 6th inning kind of arm. And that it’s an added bonus that he’ll be coming from the opposite side and that should make him more successful.

        • Who? What’s the opposite side? RV is a righty.

          • Geez…I must be slipping at this… 🙂

            What I was saying was…

            I didn’t like RV in the rotation. No one did, really…except for him and Mrs. Vogelsong. If he stayed there, Locke may have been the one to go to the BP. With Locke in the rotation, that means three lefties.

            With RV now in the BP, I see him as being the early arm out. I definitely don’t envision him being brought out in the eighth or ninth…and probably not the seventh…well, in games that matter…he may be brought on in a mop-up role. As Cole can usually complete the sixth and be past the point where RV would be used, I’m guessing, about 75% of the time, RV will come in to game where the opponent’s batting order will be optimized to face a LHP.

            That is a much, much better situation for him to be in and for the club.

            So, what I was getting at is the team gets stronger with Vogelsong out of the rotation, and it gets stronger still by slotting him into a bullpen where he should be facing more righthanded hitters because of the number of lefties in the rotation.

            Hope that made a little more sense 🙂

            • Yessirree… Makes perfect sense. I’m a literalist. If you imply something I typically overthink it.

  • Scott Kliesen
    March 30, 2016 5:14 pm

    Put me in the pleasantly surprised category.

    I guess Home Depot can cancel the order for pitch forks and torches now.

  • Now if they would only put me out my misery and cut Sean Hurdle…

  • Great decision and Nicasio should really be the #3 starter. I am concerned about the bullpen.

    • Well, if it makes you feel better, Nicasio will be starting the third game of the season. Beyond that, ascribing a particular “slot” in a rotation is largely meaningless.

    • Niese pitched well today, and regardless of who is 3, 4, or 5, they are all important and we will need them all to contend.

    • Scott Kliesen
      March 30, 2016 5:16 pm

      Concerned about the bullpen, as in concerned they won’t be best bullpen in MLB now?

  • fascinating article on hitting on Fangraphs – Walsh is a Stanford grad – smart – will be interesting to see if he can get the job done at the Major League level…


    Looks like he and Broxton made the Brewers roster.

    • Scott Kliesen
      March 30, 2016 5:15 pm

      You may be able to make Brewers roster Bruce.

      • We should have a contest – who will have the highest WAR this year Joyce or Broxton…

        • Completely agree with this. The trade of Broxton and Supak for Jason Rogers results in the Pirates signing a castoff with diminishing talent. Would much rather see Broxton or Rogers as the 4th OF.

        • I doubt there will be more than a couple of decimals separating them either way. Joyce won’t get much playing time to accumulate much in either direction, and Broxton will be helped by the positional adjustment and the almost certainty that Counsell will not keep playing him if he struggles badly. Best guess is they both wind up closer to 0.0 than any other integer.

          Now, if you’re talking who will have the higher wRC+, I’ll take Joyce.

        • That would be interesting, I’d use rate stats though, WAR is cumulative.

  • Wow, I just listened to David Todd spend 20 minutes saying that wasn’t going to happen.

    • I wasn’t listening to DTodd, but I, too, was convinced that all of NH’s spiel about “it’s not just who’s getting the best results, it’s who’s the best fit for every role” was just posturing for Vogelsong’s inevitable coronation. Very pleasantly surprised that Nicasio is getting a crack at the rotation on merit.

  • Yay!!