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Perrotto: Bloodlines Aside, Kyle Nicolas an Interesting Pitching Prospect

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Kyle Nicolas, Pittsburgh Pirates

Kyle Nicolas won Ohio state high school championships in both baseball and basketball while growing up in Massillon.

That makes perfect sense.

Nicolas reached the major leagues last season, pitching four innings in September for the Pittsburgh Pirates. At 6-foot-4, it is also easy to envision being a basketball player.

Yet when the right-hander’s bloodlines are considered, it seems surprising that Nicolas wasn’t a football player.

Ron Blackledge, his maternal grandfather, was a long-time NFL and college coach. Nicolas’ uncle, Todd Blackledge, was the quarterback when Penn State won its first national championship in 1982 then had a seven-year career in the NFL, finishing with the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1988-89.

However, Nicolas played football for just one year as a seventh grader. He learned that he wasn’t cut out to carry on the family tradition.

“I wasn’t too big of a kid then and I was getting hit around and I didn’t like that,” Nicolas said with a smile. “So, I stuck to the other sports and never really got back into football and then I hit my growth spurt as a junior (in high school). At that point, I was committed to baseball. I think it could have been fun once I got a little bigger and more physical. I still like to sling the football around, though, but baseball is my sport.”

Nicolas instead slings baseballs for a living. He reached the big leagues last season three years after being selected by the Miami Marlins in the second round of the 2020 amateur draft from Ball State.

His ERA was an unsightly 11.25 as he gave up seven runs in 5.1 innings. However, things got better for Nicolas after a rocky debut on Sept. 19 in which he gave up a grand slam to Chicago Cubs rookie Alexander Canario and was charged with six runs in 0.1 inning at Wrigley Field.

After that, Nicolas allowed only one run in five innings over his final three appearances.

Nicolas, 25, still struggles to find words to describe reaching the major leagues.

“It was a dream. I just don’t know what else to say,” Nicolas said before a workout at the Pirates’ spring training camp in Bradenton, Fla. “It was different, and it was really fun.”

Nicolas began last season by going 3-5 with a 4.36 ERA in 12 starts with Double-A Altoona. He was promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis and eventually shifted to the bullpen, finishing with a 1-2 record and a 6.20 ERA in six starts and 17 relief appearances.

While Nicolas’ overall statistics weren’t good, what stood out was his 1.18 ERA over 15.1 innings in August at Indy. That led to his promotion to the majors,

“It was really fun to hit the stride that I did in Triple-A and kind of ride it into the big leagues but that’s in the past,” Nicolas said. “It’s a new year this year and that’s kind of what you focus on.”

The Pirates’ bullpen appears to be deep. However, there are spots open, even more so now that Dauri Moreta will begin the season on the injured list with an elbow ligament injury.

Ranked as the Pirates’ 13th-best prospect by Baseball America coming into spring training, Nicolas has pitched in four Grapefruit League games. He has given up five runs on eight hits while striking out six and walking two.

“Anytime you get a chance to compete for a spot on the roster, it’s an exciting opportunity,” Nicolas said. “I’m just competing and giving it everything I’ve got.”

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