DENVER -- Rockies right-hander Juan Nicasio tried to keep secret the fatigue and pain in his legs in general, and his surgically repaired left knee in particular. The problem is his past two starts, in which he didn't make it through the third inning, scream something is wrong.
The issue isn't serious. Nicasio said he will make his final start of the season, Saturday at Dodger Stadium. Nicasio (8-9, 5.32 ERA in 30 starts) said the knee issue is making it difficult to throw his fastball, but he believes there is value in finishing his first season without extensive time on the disabled list.
"It's a long season and I feel a little tired, but [I] want to keep pitching," said Nicasio, who never let on that there was a physical issue until asked directly about it on Tuesday. "I haven't pitched that much the past two years."
Nicasio, who turned 27 on Aug. 31, was first called up from Double-A in May 2011. On Aug. 5, 2011, Nicasio suffered a broken neck and fractured skull when he was hit by a line drive. On June 2, 2012, in his 11th start, he suffered the knee injury on a hard-hit ball through the box. Nicasio tried to come back, but he wound up having microfracture surgery on July 16.
The rehab cost him conditioning time, and the results show in his fastball. Nicasio can't land on his left foot with the force that it takes to throw a 94-mph fastball, which he possessed when he first came to the Majors.
"I don't like excuses," Nicasio said. "But it is hard pitching that way, with my knee. I can't push as hard."
While the issue wasn't made public, pitching coach Jim Wright and head athletic trainer Keith Dugger were fully aware of Nicasio's pain and fatigue. Nicasio, his coach and trainer all agree that he should take three weeks' rest after the season and then begin a normal offseason conditioning program. Nicasio said he will pay special attention to his legs and building the throwing shoulder. Nicasio said he is not sure if he'll pitch for his Dominican Winter League team, Aguilas Cibaenas.
Early this season, Nicasio fell into a pattern of pitching well early then fizzling in the fifth or sixth inning. He was 7-9 with a 5.31 ERA when the Rockies sent him to Triple-A Colorado Springs for two starts. When Nicasio returned, the results were much different. He has made 14 starts since his return, and in the first 12, he went 4-3 with a 3.68 ERA.
However, in his past two, he has gone 2 2/3 and 2 1/3 innings, respectively, and given up 15 hits and 15 earned runs.
At times since his return he has reached his top fastball velocity, but there is little consistency. At times he throws 88, at times 92, and at times everywhere in between. But in some of his best outings, he has used a hard slider and a looping slider, which he developed over the past year, and has gradually increased the use of his changeup.
"I'm learning a lot," Nicasio said. "Now I know the hitters and how to pitch them, things like that."
Nicasio's numbers have taken a hit in his past two starts, with the ERA rising by nearly three-quarters of a run. But the Rockies believe there is value in Nicasio continuing to pitch. The club heads into 2014 feeling good about left-hander Jorge De La Rosa and right-handers Jhoulys Chacin and Tyler Chatwood. Nicasio will have to compete for a spot, but when healthy, Nicasio has shown the power arm the organization desires, and the team wants to be sure he understands the grind of pitching through September.
"He's been through a lot, so it's important for him mentally and important for him physically to believe he can get through the whole season and not give in to the fact he's tired," Wright said. "Make pitches and see what happens.
"He started this season with a fastball only, and now he's got a slider and his changeup is developing, so next year he should have three workable pitches in a Major League game. Coming into next season, with the experience of pitching 160 innings this year, he should be ahead in the game."
CarGo trying to determine if he'll need surgery
DENVER -- Rockies left fielder Carlos Gonzalez is still weighing his options, trying to figure out the best long-term solution for his sprained right middle finger.
Gonzalez took swings in the batting cage before Tuesday's game against the Red Sox and said he will use these sessions as a test for whether or not to pursue surgery. Swing and misses have triggered a flare-up before, and he knows one misguided swing could mean further trouble.
"The thing is, I'd be in the same situation like we're at right now and feel good, but it can take just one swing," Gonzalez said. "So that's how we're going to know if we're going to need the surgery if it just blows out and goes back to zero."
The All-Star left fielder has been taking about 15 swings in cage sessions, but he will keep bumping that number up over the next few days and see how the finger responds. Gonzalez will decide on surgery no later than Nov. 1 to make sure the finger is back at full strength before Spring Training begins in February.
Doctors have offered varying opinions on surgery, but Gonzalez is still hoping he can avoid a procedure.
"I think I'm the one who's going to make the call," he said. "So we're just trying to do everything possible to avoid the surgery. But if we have to get it fixed by surgery, we're just going to have to."
The fear is that surgery could mean lost flexibility in Gonzalez's finger, which is why he's so hesitant to head for the operating room.
"It can get stiff, I can lose my grip," Gonzalez said. "I don't want to do that. I just want to be able to play without pain, that's it."
Pacheco holding his own behind home plate
DENVER -- Soon after Jordan Pacheco showed up for his first Minor League season, coaches started converting the infielder into a catcher.
They saw the tools in Pacheco and thought it offered him the best chance at making an impact in the big leagues. But in his first full big league season, he was rarely behind the plate, his strong 2012 rookie campaign coming as a first and third baseman.
In year two, however, his skills behind the plate have come in handy as usual starter Wilin Rosario nurses a strained right calf. Pacheco started his 10th game at catcher in the opener against the Red Sox on Tuesday and is regaining his feel behind the plate.
"There's always an adjustment period," Pacheco said. "It's a completely different position and you're seeing the field from a different angle, and … you got to work with the pitcher throughout the game and help them out."
Pacheco said the most difficult part to master is mapping out a plan that takes advantage of a hitter's weakness. So Pacheco has leaned on the advice of full-time catchers Yorvit Torrealba and Rosario to understand the tendencies of the Rockies' pitchers and opposing hitters.
"That's definitely the toughest part, because you got to know what they're good at," Pacheco said. "Know what they like and when they get into trouble, you got to know how to get them out of trouble. Could be a certain pitch you call, could be just telling them a certain thing. You see Yorvit out there all the time -- he's talking with the pitcher and trying to get them in the zone."
Pacheco spent about three weeks with Triple-A Colorado Springs from late July to Aug. 19, getting just one start at catcher before that.
Manager Walt Weiss said that stay in the Minors, during which he mostly played catcher, prepared him for more consistent time there in the Majors. He's also been able to quickly build a connection with Colorado's staff.
"He handles the game well," Weiss said. "From what we've seen from his time up here as a catcher at the end of the season here, he's really handled the staff well."
• Weiss confirmed that Jhoulys Chacin will start in place of Roy Oswalt against the Red Sox on Wednesday. Chacin has a .3.77 ERA in 17 starts at Coors Field this year.
• A strained calf has kept Rosario out of the lineup since Sept. 17, and Weiss said he'd probably be ready before the Rockies' final series of the year against the Dodgers. That series begins Friday at Dodger Stadium.
• Weiss still hasn't ruled out Jorge De La Rosa making one final start this year. De La Rosa has been scratched from his past two starts due to a bruised left thumb that's been nagging him for more than three months.
"Those chances are becoming slimmer obviously, but he is going to play catch today and he does say it feels better today without having thrown a ball yet," Weiss said. "But we'll have a better idea after he plays catch."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. Ian McCue is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.