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Sinker helped Nolasco to career revival

MLB.com @mi_guardado

ANAHEIM -- The Angels didn't come into Spring Training set on naming right-hander Ricky Nolasco their Opening Day starter, but as camp wore on, a confluence of factors led them to that decision.

Nolasco wasn't facing any health concerns, unlike the Halos' top two starters, Garrett Richards and Matt Shoemaker, who are both coming off injuries. With three Opening Day starts already under his belt, manager Mike Scioscia also believed Nolasco would be unfazed by the pomp and circumstance that typically accompany the inaugural game of a season.

ANAHEIM -- The Angels didn't come into Spring Training set on naming right-hander Ricky Nolasco their Opening Day starter, but as camp wore on, a confluence of factors led them to that decision.

Nolasco wasn't facing any health concerns, unlike the Halos' top two starters, Garrett Richards and Matt Shoemaker, who are both coming off injuries. With three Opening Day starts already under his belt, manager Mike Scioscia also believed Nolasco would be unfazed by the pomp and circumstance that typically accompany the inaugural game of a season.

But just as important was the fact that Nolasco has been pitching very well for the Angels ever since his acquisition from the Twins last summer.

At the time of the trade, which also brought Alex Meyer to Anaheim in exchange for Hector Santiago, Nolasco had a 5.13 ERA over 21 starts in Minnesota. But the 34-year-old veteran, who grew up in nearby Rialto, experienced a bit of a renaissance after returning to Southern California, logging a 3.21 ERA in 11 starts with the Angels.

Nolasco has said he believes an increased reliance on his sinker has been the primary impulse behind his turnaround.

Pitching coach Charles Nagy pitched that idea to him shortly after he landed in Anaheim, and the results have been tangible. Last July, Nolasco's final month with the Twins, he threw his sinker 21.94 percent of the time, according to data from Brooks Baseball.

By September, that figure had climbed to 33.88 percent, an 11.94 percent spike from just two months earlier. By using his sinker more often, Nolasco was able to induce more ground balls and generate quicker outs, improving his effectiveness.

"It's something they wanted me to do when I got here, and it paid off obviously," Nolasco said earlier this spring. "It's an adjustment I made and will continue to make and getting better."

Nolasco has continued to lean on his sinker this spring and has produced solid results, going 1-1 with a 3.52 ERA with 10 strikeouts over 15 1/3 Cactus League innings. He'll look to carry that success over to the regular season when he takes the mound against the A's in Oakland on Monday.

It will mark Nolasco's fourth career Opening Day start. He previously received the nod in 2009 and 2013 with the Marlins and in 2014 with the Twins.

"It's a great honor, it means a lot," Nolasco said Thursday. "I'm going to do everything I can to try to come home with a win."

Maria Guardado covers the Angels for MLB.com.

Ricky Nolasco