SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) – Juan Nicasio made it easy for Colorado manager Walt Weiss to make it official.
Nicasio, coming back from a broken neck in 2011 and an injured left knee last season, allowed one run on three hits over five innings as the Rockies beat the Kansas City Royals 7-2 on Tuesday.
“He’s in the rotation,” Weiss announced after Nicasio’s victory.
Nicasio gave up a home run to Mike Moustakas in the second inning, then pitched out of jams in the fourth and fifth innings when the Royals had two runners on and one out.
Nicasio was limited to 13 starts in 2011 when a line drive off his head on Aug. 5 broke a vertebra in his neck. He made 11 starts last season before the knee problem ended his season in June.
“He’s a guy who hasn’t pitched a lot with a broken neck and the knee injury last year,” pitching coach Jim Wright said. “He hasn’t thrown a pitch in seven months until this spring. He’s made tremendous improvement over the last three or four starts. He’s still making incremental progress. Today was a big step for his confidence. I was pleased with his changeup and his slider. They’re in developmental stages.”
“It’s all about confidence now. He’s comfortable on the mound. His fastball confidence is there. It’s getting everything else together,” he said.
With the count full in the fifth inning and two runners on, Nicasio struck out Alex Gordon with a changeup.
“He was outstanding,” Weiss said. “He threw a lot of changeups. It’s the best I’ve seen his changeup. When you’ve got to gear up for 97 and 98 (mph) sometimes and you drop that on you, it makes it really tough for the hitter.”
Nicasio didn’t need the changeup to twice strikeout Eric Hosmer.
“He’s late with his swing, so I throw fastballs,” Nicasio said. “I didn’t want to throw a breaking ball. I feel ready for the season. My key is I need to command my fastball to each side and down and high. My second pitch is a slider. I need a changeup. All my games I want to throw my changeup.”
Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie, who started last season 3-9 with a 6.35 ERA with Colorado before a July 20 trade to the Royals, took the loss. After retiring the first nine batters, Guthrie gave up three runs in the fifth and another in the sixth. He yielded four runs on eight hits and a walk, throwing 50 strikes in 75 pitches.
Yorvit Torrealba and D.J. LeMahieu delivered RBI singles in the three-run Rockies’ fifth inning. Corey Dickerson contributed two doubles, including one in the ninth off Royals closer Greg Holland to drive in a pair of runs.
Moustakas hit his third spring home run and a single, upping his average to .426.
“I’ve been working on my swing in the offseason, getting back to how I used to hit,” Moustakas said. “I’m trying to getting more comfortable in the box and I feel I’ve gotten to that point, so it’s kind of stay here and I keep going from where I’m at.”
NOTES: After winning 11 straight games from Feb. 24-March 9, the Royals have lost four of their past five. . RHP Wade Davis, who was setback by shoulder inflammation, will make his first Royals’ start Wednesday against the Dodgers since March 3. Davis threw four innings in a minor league game last week. . LHP Bruce Chen will throw in a Royals minor league game Thursday with the major league club off.
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