MILWAUKEE -- It started with teammates in Colorado occasionally calling him "Chacin the Machine," but Jhoulys Chacin was uncomfortable putting that nickname on the back of his jersey for the inaugural Players' Weekend last year."Albert Pujols is 'The Machine,'" Chacin said.:: Players' Weekend presented by Valspar Stain ::So the right-hander
MILWAUKEE -- It started with teammates in Colorado occasionally calling him "Chacin the Machine," but Jhoulys Chacin was uncomfortable putting that nickname on the back of his jersey for the inaugural Players' Weekend last year.
"Albert Pujols is 'The Machine,'" Chacin said.
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So the right-hander came up with a creative solution -- one he'll wear again this year when the Brewers' steadiest starting pitcher takes the mound Saturday against the Pirates at Miller Park. Chacin took the Spanish word for machine -- La Máquina -- and made it more pitcher-friendly with the addition of a K.
That's why you'll see "LA MAKINA" across his back on Saturday night.
"I never really had a nickname in baseball," Chacin said. "Maybe when I was a kid, they called me something. But I don't remember. I like the nicknames. … You get to know better about your teammates. It's something I really like, and I know all the guys here like.
"I hope they keep doing it."
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The Brewers hope Chacin keeps doing it, too, considering he leads the staff in starts in starts (27), innings (151) and victories (13). Among Milwaukee's starters, only Wade Miley has a better ERA than Chacin's 3.58 -- in more than 100 fewer innings.
In hindsight, Chacin was one of the best free-agent pitching signings of last offseason. The Brewers picked him up on a two-year, $15.5 million deal.
"I think we talked about this in Spring Training: Once [Christian] Yelich and [Lorenzo] Cain came on board, I think we forgot to talk about Chacin and how important he could be," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "He's ended up being really important."
Counsell added, "It's our job to keep him in the right spot, keep him going in the right direction."
This season, Chacin credits Brewers pitching coach Derek Johnson with getting him to try a new offering, a splitter that serves as Chacin's change-of-pace pitch.
"The split was all from him," Chacin said. "I never threw a splitter."
Chacin did throw a changeup, but it was inconsistent. Some days, he couldn't throw the pitch for a strike, and it hurt him against left-handed hitters.
It was Johnson who one day suggested, "Why don't you throw a splitter?"
Chacin was a quick learner, since he already threw a two-seam sinker, and simply opened his fingers to throw the split.
There's not as much of a velocity gap as other pitchers -- Chacin's split averages 86.5 mph according to Statcast™, compared to around 90 mph for his fastball -- but it works. Chacin broke out the pitch against a lefty-heavy Cubs lineup at Miller Park on June 13, when he pitched six innings of the Brewers' six-hit shutout in a 1-0 win.
"It worked that day," Chacin said. "I got a good feeling."
Besides varying his repertoire, Chacin occasionally varies his arm angle and pace to keep hitters off-balance. It's a combination that has worked for a pitcher who doesn't have the same velocity of younger, harder-throwing players in the game today.
"I think that is a confidence thing that you'll see," Counsell said. "When you're giving different looks and being creative on the mound, that's generally somebody who's pretty confident in what they're doing. I think Jhoulys is in a good spot."
Chacin will try to stay there on Saturday night against the Pirates, with Players' Weekend in full swing.
"You're always trying to find new things to get better," Chacin said.
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.