Ricky Nolasco‘s next start will be his 10th in a Dodgers uniform. If the last two starts are any indication — the right-hander has pitched 16 innings and allowed zero runs against the Red Sox and Cubs, respectively — he’s grown quite comfortable pitching for his childhood team in a short amount of time.
While some professional athletes simply aren’t able to deal with the unique pressures of pitching near their hometown, Nolasco has adapted well, improving incrementally with each outing. A free agent at the end of the season, Nolasco chose his words carefully Wednesday when asked if he’d want to re-sign with the Dodgers.
“My teammates have been doing a great job of welcoming me here,” Nolasco said after blanking the Cubs. “As far as what the future holds, we’re just going to have to wait and see what happens. I’m from here, and this is where I want to be. We’ll just see what happens.
“I’ll focus right now on winning right now and all that will play itself out.”
The key words there — this is where I want to be — were easily lost yesterday, when Yasiel Puig‘s benching was the media focus after the game. (More on him in a bit.)
Since Magic Johnson and his Guggenheim Baseball Management cohorts bought the club, the Dodgers’ new owners have gone out of their way to show they are choosers, not beggars. This winter, they potentially can choose from a free-agent pitching crop that includes Nolasco, Matt Garza, Phil Hughes, Tim Lincecum, Ervin Santana, A.J. Burnett and Jon Lester (for whom the Red Sox hold a team option worth $13 million). You can certainly argue that Nolasco, who turns 31 in December, isn’t the best pitcher in that group. He isn’t the worst. More importantly, would any accept the job of fourth starter more willingly, with lower contract demands, than the Rialto right-hander?
That question ignores the Dodgers’ plans for Josh Beckett, prospect Zach Lee, and Chad Billingsley, who’s due to return from Tommy John surgery at some point next season if his rehab goes well. (All three would love to have a permanent spot in the Dodgers’ 2014 rotation behind Kershaw-Greinke-Ryu.) But it’s a question that the Dodgers will have to ponder if Nolasco continues to force his way into the team’s long-term blueprints.
Some more bullet points for an off day: