Nolin learns to appreciate bumps in road
Left-hander eager to use humbling debut as motivation to return to Toronto
TORONTO -- Blue Jays left-hander Sean Nolin will be looking for some redemption when he reports to Spring Training in February.
The 24-year-old seeks a much-needed fresh start after a rather trying 2013 season that included significant progress but also an incredibly frustrating big league debut.
For most players, a Major League debut is something to be remembered forever. Nolin will eventually get to that point, but for now, he's looking to move past his first big league experience, in which six runs crossed the plate in just 1 1/3 innings.
"Obviously, it wasn't the best thing," Nolin recently said of his lone appearance in the Majors to this point. "You want to do good. You come up here for a reason, to try and do what you can for the team. I was prepared, but maybe a little overanxious or something like that, and it didn't turn out for me.
"I'm a very serious guy on the field, but I tried to mellow out a little bit [after the debut] and told myself, 'You're going to fail.' If you never fail, you're the best player that ever existed. You just have to take the failure the right away."
Even before the infamous May 24 outing against the Orioles, there were plenty of question marks surrounding Toronto's decision to give a start to Nolin in the first place. Prior to the 2013 season, Nolin had made just three appearances above Class A Advanced, and earlier that spring, he had been dealing with a left shoulder injury.
Despite the red flags, the Blue Jays decided to go ahead with promoting Nolin to the Major Leagues. He was called up from Double-A New Hampshire and handed the ball against a division rival. The outing went awry from the start, as Nolin struggled to get out of the first inning and was eventually lifted with one out in the second.
Toronto appeared to immediately admit that Nolin's promotion had been a mistake by sending him right back to the Minor Leagues after the game. Despite the fact an option had already been used on his contract, the Blue Jays never turned to the promising prospect again despite a series of injuries and woeful performances from the starting rotation.
Those types of personnel moves are completely out a player's control, but that doesn't mean they don't cause issues. Nolin had a little bit of difficulty coming to grips with his incredibly brief stint, and understandably, it took him some time to get over the disappointment.
"If someone said that it didn't take any time, they might just be pushing it off," said Nolin, who is ranked the club's fifth-best prospect, according to MLB.com. "You have struggles. You have to think about what happened, but you can't dwell about it too long. Get past it, let it go and just do what you can do now, because now that you're down, you have things to work on."
Nolin did just that, going on to enjoy a successful season with New Hampshire. He went 8-3 with a 3.01 ERA in 17 starts with the Fisher Cats, then finished the season by posting a 1.53 ERA in three outings for Triple-A Buffalo.
The native of New York doesn't possess the type of overpowering fastball that fellow Blue Jays prospects Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman have, but his strong command of the strike zone can help compensate for that. When you add in an impressive arsenal of pitches, Nolin appears to have the necessary tools required to become a reliable big league starter.
"He has four pitches -- fastball, curveball, slider, change," said Gary Allenson, Nolin's manager in New Hampshire last season. "He needs to be pitching where it's not predictable, not to be afraid to throw offspeed [pitches] in fastball counts. He's also a guy that is probably a perfectionist and needs to be a little bit easier on himself when things aren't going well."
Nolin learned that the hard way in 2013, but things are much different now. The question isn't if Nolin will be back, but when. It seems unlikely that he would start the season in Toronto, but there's little doubt that an opportunity will eventually present itself.
That's why Spring Training will be crucial -- it is a chance for Nolin to climb up a notch or two on the depth chart. He'll be competing against the likes of Stroman, Drew Hutchison, Kyle Drabek and possibly Ricky Romero. When an injury occurs at the big league level, Nolin will be among those waiting for the phone to ring.
Until then, Nolin will have to remain patient. Even though his debut was only 1 1/3 innings, it's also the type of experience that can help fuel and prepare him for the upcoming challenge.
"I won't know until it happens, I guess, but I hope it will be different in the way of not being so anxious," Nolin said. "Obviously, it was my first start. Since I was 4 or 5 years old, I've wanted to be a Major League pitcher. It was a lot to look forward to, but maybe because I've had a taste of it, it won't be as intense, in a good way."