BRADENTON -- Juan Nicasio is not exactly sure what his role might be with the Pittsburgh Pirates, but he is not worried.
There is little that can bother the Dominican Republic native after being felled by an Ian Desmond liner at Denver's Coors Field in 2011 that many initially thought might leave him paralyzed.
The 29-year-old right-hander is nearly two years removed from the pitchers' purgatory known as Coors Field. Nicasio tries to downplay both the effect of pitching four years in Colorado and the incident that almost ended his career. That type of injury he sustained -- a broken C-1 vertebra -- is usually the result of a severe car accident or a football play that went bad and can leave the
"I never think about it anymore. When I go to the mound, I think about the hitter and stopping him. I don't think about getting hit," Nicasio said after throwing two innings against Houston on Sunday at McKechnie Field.
"All his pitches were working and he was throwing strikes," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. "You look at a man's stats who pitched at Coors Field and somewhere else and it's almost like a disclaimer. To be a starter in Colorado the numbers can be skewed. You have to look deeper."
Nicasio has been hit in the legs and other parts of his body, but nothing in the head since the incident on Aug. 5, 2011.
He was praised by his teammates for his courage to get back on the mound the following season. He even refuses to place some of his disappointing outings on the altitude at Coors Field, which at times can send baseballs into orbit.
The 6-foot-4, 250-pounder pitched four years in Denver, before joining the Los Angeles Dodgers last season. With the move, his ERA dropped from 5.38 to 3.86. But perhaps more telling -- after allowing 19 homers in 93 innings in 2014, he gave up one in 58.1 innings last year.
"The breaking ball is not the same at Coors Field, but I think it is something in your head sometimes," Nicasio said. "You throw the ball down and you have a ground ball and you are good. You throw the ball up in the sun and you are going to get hit. Coors Field is hard to pitch, but you do your job no matter what."
With the Pirates this season, Nicasio could be a reliever or a part-time starter who adds depth to the pitching rotation and gives the club a bonafide starter if injuries pile up. He started his first three years for Colorado and had 14 starts in 33 games for the Rockies in 2014. For the Dodgers he had one start in 53 appearances.
Nicasio said he doesn't have a preference and would be able to transform what he did last year as a reliever into a starting pitcher for the Pirates.
"I just want to get the win if I go to the bullpen or if they want me to start. My job is to help my teammates," he said. "It won't be new for me and I can learn quickly."
Right now, Nicasio is preparing for anything and likes working with Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli. He expects to throw three innings in his next outing and is working primarily on his fastball and slider.
"We had a good talk before and after the game. I told him what I needed to do and he did a good job calling for sliders and fastball. He was very good for me," Nicasio said.
Hurdle doesn't know how the Pirates will use Nicasio, but he likes all the options he provides.
"We are still stretching him out. Right now, he is the mix to provide a starting option, depth starter or work him back to the bullpen. We haven't made that decision yet," Hurdle said.
Alan Dell, Herald sports columnist/writer, can be reached at 941-745-7056. Follow him on Twitter @ADellSports.