Nolasco Presents a Big Problem
Ron Gardenhire sounded like he was just about ready to be done with Nolasco during a cranky post-game interview on Sunday, and it's hard to blame him.
"It starts with him," Gardenhire said. "He's got to do a better job. Bottom line is he's got to figure out something because today wasn't any good at all. He didn’t do anything. He didn't locate anything. They were all over every pitch."
Not exactly what you like to hear regarding a pitcher who was signed to be the stable leading force in the rotation, and paid accordingly, but Gardenhire's frustration is well warranted and the stats speak for themselves.
Among qualified major-league pitchers, Nolasco's 5.90 ERA is the worst and nobody else is even close -- Justin Masterson is next at 5.16. Nolasco also ranks last in WHIP (1.62) and opponents' OPS (.902).
I've been pretty bullish on the big righty, in part because I might be in denial -- I've liked him as a pitcher and was a fan of the signing -- and in part because there is some evidence that his horrendous results have been a little fluky.
After all, he's not walking bunches of people, and his swing-and-miss percentage isn't far out of line with his career mark. Entering Sunday's game, he was averaging 6.4 K/9; over the past three seasons, he averaged 6.6.
The difference now is that opponents are absolutely plastering Nolasco's pitches when they make contact and as the clunkers pile up it gets harder and harder to chalk that up to bad luck. On Sunday, he looked as ineffective as he's looked all year, failing to strike out a single batter while allowing eight of the 13 men he faced to reach base. It wasn't even a competitive outing, reminiscent of a Vance Worley performance in late March.
Photo by Dan Hamilton, USA TODAY Sports
Yes, American League lineups are better than those in the NL. But that doesn't come close to explaining the magnitude of Nolasco's struggles. What is going on, and how can it be fixed?
No doubt the Twins' coaches and execs are racking their brains trying to find an answer. Options are somewhat limited when you're in Year One of a lucrative four-year contract. Gardenhire hinted at a possible demotion to the bullpen and Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press noted that the club could choose to push back Nolasco's next start back until after the All-Star break, saving him from having to pitch at Coors Field and giving him extra time to straighten things out.
Those are as good ideas as any, I suppose. You can't really cut him or send him to the minors, and you can't very well keep sending him out there when he's going like this. But there's also this problem: the Twins lack viable replacements for Nolasco at the moment.
Trevor May is out with an injury; Alex Meyer has been extremely inconsistent and also hasn't thrown more than 90 pitches in a game since early May. Neither is MLB-ready.
I suppose the Twins could go with someone like Kris Johnson or Logan Darnell, but they've already got Yohan Pino plugged in and when you're looking at multiple Triple-A non-prospects filling the big-league rotation, you start to feel a nauseating sense of deja vu.
Is this the last three years all over again? When is it going to change?
The Twins went out and spent big on free agent pitching during the offseason, and yet they still can't seem to escape the same old outcome: eroded depth and a totally inadequate starting staff.