WHAT: New Orleans Zephyrs at Omaha Storm Chasers
WHEN: 7:05 p.m.
WHERE: Werner Park, Papillion, Neb.
STARTING PITCHERS: Zephyrs LH Justin Nicolino vs. Storm Chasers RH Miguel Almonte
RADIO: WODT-AM, 1280
Zephyrs left-hander Justin Nicolino, 24, is making his second consecutive Opening Day start, traditionally given to a team’s ace pitcher. He is only the third Zephyrs pitcher to do so.
“Obviously, it’s an honor,” he said. “This is my third Opening Day start in my minor league career. It’s one of those things to me that adrenaline picks up a little bit because it’s the first game of the year.
“You’ve had six months where you’re thinking about the next time you’re on the mound pitching against live hitters. I really enjoy it. You kind of get out there and set the tone.”
Last season’s opener was at against Omaha at Zephyr Field. Nicolino pitched 4.2 innings with no decision in a game the Zephyrs lost 10-6 in 10 innings.
He went 7-7 with a 3.52 earned-run average in 20 games last year in his first season in Triple-A. He also pitched in 12 games, all starts, with the parent Miami Marlins, going 5-5 with a 4.01 ERA over 74.0 innings.
Nicolino likely will be the first Zephyrs pitcher called up this season. He said last year’s experience with Miami was reassuring and that working with the Marlins staff, he made some changes that made him better.
“I changed some things deliverywise to help some of my pitches,” he said. “But the biggest thing for me is being able to command my curveball a lot better than I have in years past.”
Omaha is an affiliate of the World Series champion Kansas City Royals. Omaha won the Pacific Coast League title three times in four years and the Triple-A World Series in 2013 and 2014. Last season, the Royals (80-64) finished tied for second with Iowa behind the Oklahoma City Dodgers in the American Northern Division. … Nicolino, who was Miami’s No. 3 prospect last year, will go against Almonte, 23, who is Kansas City’s No. 4 prospect. Almonte, who is from Santiago, Dominican Republic, split time between Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Omaha last season, and pitched two games with Kansas City. He has a 95 mph fastball scouts say he “can live off of,” a big curveball that is said to freeze hitters, and a deceptive changeup. ... On Friday, Zephyrs hard-throwing right-hander Jose Urena, a reliever with the Marlins, will go against left-hander John Lannan. Saturday, the Zephyrs’ Paul Clemens will start against Omaha’s Luke Farrell. And Sunday, Kendry Flores, one of Miami’s top prospects, will start against left-hander Johnathan Dziedzic.
— Darrell Williams