LOS ANGELES -- Had the Rockies not pulled off a stunning comeback and beaten the Giants, 7-6, on Sunday, the lasting image would have been Rockies pitcher Juan Nicasio's slow, despairing walk from the mound to the dugout.
Nicasio (5-5, 5.92 ERA in 14 starts) needed 67 pitches to go two innings plus two batters and looked increasingly defeated with each delivery. He never found any answers. Now the search will continue at Triple-A Colorado Springs. The Rockies optioned Nicasio on Monday and called up outfielder/first baseman Kyle Parker, their top Draft pick in 2010.
Through his first 10 starts, Nicasio was 5-2 with a 3.61 ERA. But he has a 14.36 ERA over his last four starts, during which he has given up 35 hits in 15 2/3 innings. Nicasio has lost his fastball location, making his slider and split-finger pitches irrelevant as batters have continued to work into hitters' counts.
"I'll try to figure out myself, because right now I'm struggling, really struggling," Nicasio said. "I need to come back good.
"I feel strong. I'm good. My body is good. I don't know what's going on right now. So I got sent down to try to pitch better, and command my fastball. Right now, I'm lost. I lost my breaking ball and my fastball. I'll work on the command of my fastball."
Rockies manager Walt Weiss can hope this demotion can have the same effect of last year's. Nicasio was 4-4 with a 5.31 ERA through June 19, but after a brief respite at Colorado Springs he showed improvement. He finished 9-9 with a 5.14 ERA with Colorado, pitching through left knee soreness most of the second half.
"Juan gets a chance to decompress a little bit, go down there and work on some things without the high stakes of wins and losses that go on at the Major League level," Weiss said.
Parker, meanwhile, has hit .292 with seven home runs, 20 doubles and 38 RBIs at Colorado Springs. Even with injuries to Carlos Gonzalez and Michael Cuddyer, the Rockies have four outfielders playing well, and Justin Morneau has been steady and durable at first base. But Weiss has used his depth throughout the year, and plans to find at-bats for the organization's No. 6 prospect.
"It's an opportunity to look at Kyle," Weiss said. "He's been on the radar since Spring Training. I feel like he's going to be an impact offensive player in this league. We'll get an opportunity to get a look at him."
Weiss said he had not set his rotation. Nicasio's turn would have been Saturday at home against the Brewers, so it's possible the Rockies will skip that slot. If that's the case, the next time the Rockies will need a fifth starter is June 25.