Fish out of water?

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While a revitalized Michael Cuddyer was busy hitting for the cycle Friday, things went from bad to worse for one of last year’s biggest surprise stories.

Ricky Nolasco — the Marlins Opening Day starter — found himself assigned to Triple-A New Orleans after getting touched for eight earned runs in just two innings against the Rays.

It’s easy to see why the Marlins sent him packing. Friday was the last straw, his second straight eight-run meltdown, leaving him with an indefensible 9.07 ERA and 2-5 record.

Where did it all go wrong? What happened to the guy who returned last spring from a 10-month injury hiatus and went on to establish himself as one of the game’s top starters, notching 98 strikeouts, just 12 walks and a 3.29 ERA down the stretch?

How did Nolasco become the National League’s punching bag?

“What I’m seeing is it looks like he’s lost a little bit of belief in himself,” Marlins catcher John Baker said. “It looks like he’s pitching away from contact.”

Pitching coach Mark Wiley: “I think he was putting pressure on himself to do well. He was over-throwing pitches, and kind of losing a little bit of his mechanics.”

Manager Fredi Gonzalez: “We’ve got to get his confidence back.”

The notion that Nolasco’s problems are more mental than physical seems to be supported by the numbers.

For all the disappointment he’s caused for owners who believed they were drafting a staff ace, keep in mind that Nolasco’s basic skills remain intact: his mid-90s fastball, his 7.63 K/9 rate and his 37/13 K/BB ratio all paint a far different picture than the image of someone getting chased out of Florida.

That doesn’t mean Nolasco is without flaws. He threw way too many pitches (18.60 P/IP) and surrendered one too many homers (8 in 42 2/3 IP).

It just means that, barring some injury being concealed from everyone, there isn’t anything major wrong with him. Nothing that a confidence boost and a few mechanical adjustments can’t cure.

So before you go kicking him to the curb out of frustration, ask yourself this:

How would you feel if after giving up on Nolasco, he rejoined the Marlins rotation in no time and completely turned things around on someone else’s team?

– Alex Cushing, MLB.com

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