Explore the Score – March 12

Houston Astros (6-8) vs. Miami Marlins (7-7)
Roger Dean Stadium, 1:05 P.M.
Bud Norris (0-0, 5.40) vs. Ricky Nolasco (1-1, 0.00)

I’m not much of a gambling man but sometimes Vegas odds are very telling.  For example, in taking a look at Vegas Insider’s list of odds to win the World Series this year you’ll find two teams at the bottom with a 300/1 chance.  And you better bet that those two teams are the ones I’m writing about today.

So why is it that with plenty of other games going on I chose to focus on this one in today’s post?  Well if you’ve noticed from most of my other posts, it’s the pitching match-up that matters to me most, not the teams involved.  And with Bud Norris and Ricky Nolasco both on the mound today, we have ourselves an old-fashioned pitching showcase going on in Florida.

If you’ve kept up with baseball this off-season then you’ll know that both Norris and Nolasco have had trade rumors swirled around them for a while now.  As a matter of fact, these two pitchers could be the headliners of the trade market come July.  Both are young, healthy, relatively cheap and pitch with a level of intensity that general managers love to have in their rotation.  Of course nothing in baseball is a sure bet but it’s difficult to imagine the Vegas odds being far off from what we’ll get out of the Astros and Marlins this year.  With both teams expected to be out of playoff contention as soon as the season begins, expect scouts to keep a keen eye on these pitchers from today onward.  What is it that these scouts will be looking for?  Let’s dive into that, shall we?

The youngest and cheapest of the two, Norris is easily the more attractive option.  After a breakout 2011 season that saw Norris prosper on a poorly assembled Astros team, expectations were high for him heading into last season.  Playing for yet another poorly assembled Astros team, Norris got off to a hot start in 2012 before fading down the stretch and producing average numbers from a pitching standpoint.  Despite his lack of success last year, Norris got a lot of attention this off-season from teams looking to fill rotation spots with a high potential arm.  Take a young starter used to losing and put him in a winning environment and the results could be very beneficial.  This is the logic many teams will have as Norris enters 2013 projected to be the Astros ace (and highest paid player at $3 million).

Bud Norris (Matthew Stockman / Getty Images)

Bud Norris (Matthew Stockman / Getty Images)

Possessing a heavy fastball and a hard slider, Norris has a lot to prove this season in order to build his trade value.  For starters, he needs to prove that he deserves to be a starter.  As explosive as his fastball and slider are, his change-up does not do much to enhance these pitches further; therefore, taking away from his ability to fool hitters.  Sure, his strikeouts will always be there with the stuff he has but so will the high pitch counts and runs allowed if he isn’t able to find a third pitch to throw into the mix.  Secondly, Norris needs to prove that he can effectively pitch two hundred innings in a season.  Built with a large frame and smooth mechanics, Norris has all the makings of a bulldog on the mound; however, he has yet to translate this toward pitching more innings.  Most teams shopping for starters in July are desperate to find pitchers that can replace an injured staff anchor, placing an extra emphasis on being able to pitch deep into games.  Finally, and most importantly, Norris needs to find a level of consistency this year.  When a team is looking to trade for a starter it’s because they are in playoff contention and need all the positive momentum they can get in order to play meaningful games in October.  They don’t want a guy whose success is a toss-up each night.  These are all things Norris has already begun working on this spring.  Going four or five innings today will be a good sign of where Norris is at this point.  If he is able to limit hits while generating some swinging strikes in his time out there, it could be a sign of good things to come for Norris.  No starter wants to pitch for a woeful team and with plenty of other teams interested, look for Norris to control his own destiny this season.

Speaking of starters not wanting to be on their teams, Rocky Nolasco has understandably had enough of Miami.  After team owner Jeffrey Loria traded away virtually every shred of hope surrounding the Marlins for an assortment of unproven Blue Jays prospects in early November, Nolasco and uber slugger Giancarlo Stanton began to draw trade interest from other teams.  With Stanton’s value being legitimately unmeasurable, Nolasco proved to be the only realistic option that could be the next player on his way out of Miami.  However, no trades ever came to be and Nolasco, like Norris, enters the 2013 season projected to be the team’s ace.

Ricky Nolasco (Alan Diaz / Associated Press)

Ricky Nolasco (Alan Diaz / Associated Press)

In the last year of a three-year deal with the Marlins, this season is huge for Nolasco.  Not only is his free agent value already on the line but so is his ticket for escaping Miami as soon as possible.  The key for Nolasco this year will be limiting the long ball as it has been his greatest flaw.  Capable of being truly dominant when he is on his game, Nolasco needs to learn to pitch when he doesn’t have his best stuff in order to be taken seriously by other teams.  Nolasco has been as steady as they come over the years but he needs to work on giving his team a fighting chance every time he takes the mound.  Of course he won’t find this pitching for the talent-depleted Marlins but with a light at the end of the tunnel in sight, Nolasco could find himself pitching for a contender at some point very soon.  Look for Nolasco to keep this in mind today as he tries to take advantage of a weak Astros lineup and prove to scouts that this is the year to finally take a closer look at him.

Once again, I’m not much of a gambling man, but I will say that the odds are in favor of both Norris and Nolasco finding success with another team at some point this season.  Whether it’s at the end of spring or closer to the July trade deadline, expect the rumor mill to continue swirling for both these starters as the season gets closer.

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