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Juan Nicasio wins Pirates' rotation slot

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Pirates have stated publicly that Juan Nicasio will open the season in their starting rotation.  The move will bump Ryan Vogelsong to the bullpen.

The team made it clear from the time they signed him that Nicasio was a starting option, but he appeared most likely to open in the bullpen.  That changed with a standout spring in which Nicasio allowed no runs on ten hits and five walks over 15 innings.  Most impressively, he fanned 24.  Vogelsong meanwhile mostly struggled, taking a 6.08 ERA into the final spring game tomorrow, in which he's scheduled to pitch in relief.  Vogelsong fanned only four in 13.1 IP.

Nicasio will be returning to his original role.  He came up through the Rockies' farm system as a starter.  Nine outstanding starts to open the 2011 season in AA got him a callup and he pitched more than respectably in the majors, with an xFIP of 3.43 despite his lack of experience.  He missed the season's final two months, though, with a fractured veterbra and never got back on track.  He had a 5.28 ERA (with a much better 3.99 xFIP) in 2012, while missing four months with a knee injury.  Things went steadily downhill until he recovered partially as a reliever with the Dodgers in 2015, posting a 3.87 xFIP and fanning ten per nine innings.

Vogelsong is coming off a rough 2015 season with San Francisco, with a 4.55 xFIP.  In fact, he's mostly been mediocre for some time, with xFIPs of 4.15, 4.50 and 3.96 from 2012-14.  The move to the bullpen is problematic:  One of the reasons the Pirates believed they might be able to turn Vogelsong around was that he spent some time in the bullpen in 2015, a period that coincided with some poor pitching numbers.  A secure rotation spot theoretically might have helped, but that's not going to happen now.  With Jared Hughes starting the season on the disabled list, the team will have an opening for a reliever, but once Hughes returns they'd be carrying Vogelsong solely as starting depth, which isn't an ideal way to fill a 25-man roster spot.