DENVER -- The standards are rising for Rockies right-hander Juan Nicasio.
Nicasio did not last more than six innings in any of his first 16 starts. Often games were winnable for the first five innings but spun out of control in the sixth. Since returning from a two-start demotion to Triple-A Colorado Springs, Nicasio has had two games in which he has gone seven innings with no runs, and he has generally been better.
Now Nicasio (6-6, 5.04 ERA), whose next start is Friday in Baltimore, must prove he can find his way to the later innings when he is not feeling at his best. His latest start, on Saturday night, was one that would have been celebrated at the start of the year but is now simply OK.
Nicasio held the Pirates to one run in the first five innings and had two out in the sixth when Garrett Jones knocked an RBI triple and scored on a subsequent single before Nicasio was removed, having thrown 102 pitches. The Rockies trailed just 3-1 and came back for a 6-4 victory.
To his credit, Nicasio said his arm did not feel particularly sharp. It did not hurt, but it also did not have its normal spring. He is capable of fastballs in the 94-96 mph range, but he spent the night in the 88-92 range. He was trying to sink the ball, but only because he did not have his top-end velocity.
Also on the plus side, as catcher Wilin Rosario noted, was that when he really needed pitches, he made them all except for the one to Jones.
But even if he did not hang the slider to Jones, his high pitch count meant there was little chance he would have been allowed to pitch the seventh.
"My arm felt a little tired, a little down," Nicasio said. "Like I saw when I was talking to [pitching coach] Jim Wright, it wasn't hurting. I'm sure it will come back. I wish I could have thrown to one more hitter.
"It's hard when you make a mistake."
Nicasio was happy the Rockies won. But more important to him is that he holds himself to a high standard.
"It was an OK game, you know?" Nicasio said. "Throwing 5 2/3 innings is not the best I can do. Even if my arm doesn't feel good, I need to do it, I need to finish or get deep in games."
Ian McCue is an associate reporter for MLB.com. Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.