DENVER -- Righty reliever Juan Nicasio was greeted by smiling closer LaTroy Hawkins when he returned to the Rockies' clubhouse on Thursday -- yet another message that the bullpen can be a happy place.
Optioned to Triple-A Colorado Springs on June 16 after 14 Major League starts (5-5, 5.92 ERA), Nicasio has pitched in relief in six of his 10 Sky Sox appearances. Five of his relief appearances were more than one inning.
He pitched the seventh and eighth innings of the Rockies' 6-2 loss to the Cubs and gave up one hit -- a two-run homer to Cubs phenom Javier Baez. He also walked one and struck out one.
"He gave up the home run, but I liked the way he was throwing the ball. It looked to me like his velocity was up. He looked aggressive. He looked comfortable sprinting for a couple innings. He gave up the home run, but I don't think it was necessarily a bad pitch. He got caught in Baez's swing path. It looked like it was a slider down and away. It was a nice piece of hitting by Baez, but it wasn't a bad pitch," said manager Walt Weiss.
Nicasio, 27, said it took time to accept this change in role, but Colorado Springs manager Glenallen Hill and pitching coach Dave Schuler gradually sold him on the idea.
"I was not happy, but I couldn't control that," Nicasio said. "G-Hill called me to the office and told me to go to the bullpen, and I was sad. I'd never thrown in the bullpen in my whole life. But I worked hard.
"Later, I talked to G-Hill and Schuler, too, and they said a lot of starting pitchers went to the bullpen, like Mariano Rivera -- a lot of good closers in the big leagues. Now I'm happy. Now I'm throwing good and feeling good."
The Rockies needed Nicasio because the bullpen is still recovering from Tuesday night's 12-inning, 6-5 loss to the Cubs in which relievers threw eight innings. They called up righty Brooks Brown Wednesday, and he pitched the ninth inning. On Thursday, they sent Brown back to Colorado Springs and recalled Nicasio.
Whether Nicasio's change is permanent hasn't been determined, according to Weiss.
"The reports are good about Juan," Weiss said. "Knowing Juan and looking at the situation from my perspective, he strikes you more as a guy who can sprint with a big arm and go after hitters. And do that anywhere from between an inning and three innings."
"Sometimes it takes a pitcher [time] to get there mentally. I'd imagine that most pitchers want to be starters. There's a lot more glory in starting than pitching out of the bullpen. … Ultimately, it gets down to what's your best chance at success, helping the club win games and fitting on a club. Those are all things we have to determine."
Nicasio said he has concentrated on his four-seam fastball and slider. The split-finger changeup he developed to increase his effectiveness as a starter is still there, but he uses it sparingly.
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.