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Nolasco makes strong Spring Training debut

Potential ace impresses manager Gardenhire with two scoreless innings

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Ricky Nolasco, who signed the biggest free-agent deal in Twins history this offseason, made his Spring Training debut against the Rays on Sunday, tossing two scoreless innings.

Nolasco, who joined the club on a four-year deal worth $49 million, plus a one-year option in November, allowed a pair of hard-hit doubles in each inning of work, but got out of jams in both innings.

"It was good to get a little adrenaline going and get into a game atmosphere," Nolasco said. "I thought it went OK. Nothing crazy. I had to make some pitches in the second inning to keep that guy from advancing from second, so it was good to work on."

He pounded the strike zone, as 16 of his 22 pitches went for strikes. Nolasco needed only seven pitches to get through the first inning, and he never went to his curveball all afternoon.

Nolasco gave up a one-out double to David DeJesus down the right-field line in the first inning, but stranded him by getting Evan Longoria to ground out to third and James Loney to fly out to center field.

Nolasco allowed his second double to Yunel Escobar to lead off the second, but he struck out Jeremy Moore before Jose Molina lined into a double play to third baseman Deibinson Romero to end the inning.

"They know me and they know I'm going to throw strikes, so I figured they were going to try and jump me," Nolasco said. "They're trying to work on things too and get fastballs to hit. So it helps me work on location."

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire liked what he saw from Nolasco, who posted a 3.70 ERA in 199 1/3 innings with the Marlins and Dodgers last year, and he has thrown at least 185 innings in five of the last six seasons.

"He was free and easy," Gardenhire said. "You can see he moves the ball up and down the zone and changes speeds. He's going to be fun to watch."

Nolasco has traditionally fared well in Spring Training -- posting a 3.77 ERA, including a 3.48 ERA in Grapefruit League play with the Marlins last year -- but he said he's more focused on building arm strength more than anything else. He threw mostly fastballs on Sunday, but he worked in a few sliders and will work in his curveball in his next outing.

"I'm not going to judge anything -- it's just Spring Training," Nolasco said. "It's just about getting in my repetitions in so that once the season comes around, everything is clicking."

Nolasco, 31, remains the club's likely Opening Day starter, but the Twins still haven't announced their plans for their regular-season opener against the White Sox on March 31 at U.S. Cellular Field.

So for now, Nolasco is working on getting to know his new teammates and coaching staff, and he is happy with his new organization so far.

"It's been good," Nolasco said. "It's been a lot of fun. Everybody has been great, from the players to the coaching staff. I have a lot of fun. It's very laid back, so I'm happy to be here."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, and follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger.
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