Nolasco takes speculation in stride
Trade rumors, possible shift to closer don't bother young Marlin
JUPITER, Fla. -- For much of the offseason, Ricky Nolasco heard the speculation and the rumors. There were plenty of them, ranging from the right-hander possibly being traded to him switching from a starter to closer.
At age 24, Nolasco is a gifted pitcher in a Marlins organization that has an abundance of young arms.
Around the Winter Meetings in December, Nolasco's name was linked to possible deals with the Devil Rays for either Rocco Baldelli or B.J. Upton.
When those trade talks died down, Nolasco was mentioned as a possible solution to the unsettled closer situation in Florida.
Blessed with outstanding personal makeup and some pretty talented pitching skills, Nolasco has made himself marketable and versatile.
"The way I look at is everything happens for a reason in this league," he said. "If they were to trade me or switch me over to the closer role or put me in the bullpen, whatever they feel is best, I'm willing to accept."
One thing Nolasco is certain about is he wants to be a Marlin. He prefers to remain part of a team with emerging young talent. As a rookie, Nolasco went 11-11 with a 4.82 ERA, logging 140 innings and making 22 starts while appearing in 35 games.
The Marlins explored trade possibilities, but all along they preferred to keep Nolasco. Still, his name would pop up in trade talks because Florida has pitching depth and center field remains an open competition.
"It's a business, but I'd really like to stay here," Nolasco said. "I'm comfortable here and this is where I want to be right now."
He's already been traded once in his big-league career, coming to the Marlins from the Cubs after the 2005 season as part of the Juan Pierre trade.
Florida, right now, is moving forward with plans to keep Nolasco as a starter. But if a closer doesn't surface in the first few weeks of Spring Training, he may be asked to shift roles.
"He's already shown he can be a starter in the big leagues. You just don't go out and win 10-plus games with magic," Marlins general manager Larry Beinfest said. "He is a confident kid. He knows what he's doing. I think he's up to almost any challenge. I think he's got a great attitude. I wouldn't rule anything in or out.
"But Ricky has already proven he can be a very productive starter and log a lot of innings, and he does things you want your starting pitcher to do."
The plan is to stretch Nolasco out the next few weeks, giving him plenty of innings. That way, he will be ready to either start or make a smoother transition to the bullpen.
"We spoke to him many times, and he says, 'Hey, whatever you want me to do.' He has that mentality," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He just wants to pitch. He wants to compete."
Going with the flow comes naturally to Nolasco, who was one of four Marlins rookies to win 10 or more games in 2006.
He opened the season in the bullpen before joining the rotation in May. Nolasco was 9-10 with a 4.96 ERA as a starter, and 2-1 with a 3.98 ERA as a reliever.
He struggled in the final month largely because he experienced some discomfort behind his right knee.
"It was a little frustrating because that was the first time I had been injured at all at any point of my career," Nolasco said. "It was kind of tough, but obviously, you can't pitch like that and you had to say something.
"Last year, I was just trying to make the team and trying to fit myself into a role. I was fortunate enough to get into the rotation. Whatever they feel is fine with me. If they want me to close, I'll be mentally ready to do that."
Should Nolasco close, he wouldn't hesitate seeking the advice of a veteran he is extremely familiar with: Joe Borowski.
Borowski had 36 saves for the Marlins in 2006, earning him a free-agent contract with the Indians.
"If I close, I'll talk to some guys," Nolasco said. "Maybe I'll be able to talk to Joe Borowski and get some pointers on what to do. If not, I'll just start like I normally have and try to be consistent."
Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.