Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 3/1/12
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Leadoff home run? No problem. Bases loaded? Whatever. Bad inning? Kid stuff. It's hard to imagine the minor troubles of baseball bothering Colorado Rockies pitcher Juan Nicasio much anymore, as he's already won the greatest battle of them all in returning to the mound after suffering a fractured vertebra last season. It was only six months ago that a line drive struck Nicasio's right temple, causing him to fall and fracture his C-1 vertebra. As Nicasio was carted off the field and rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery, it was uncertain if the 25-year-old would walk again or even survive, let alone throw another pitch. But here he is in Rockies camp, competing for a spot in the rotation and seemingly unfazed by the incident that could have easily taken his life. After the injury, it wasn't long before Nicasio's mind turned from walking again to getting back on the mound. "The first week, I wasn't thinking that," Nicasio said. "I was feeling bad. I was feeling nothing in my body. I had no power in my body. I can't walk, can't move my neck. I wasn't thinking of it. "The second week, I was feeling better. I was thinking 'OK, I think I want to play again.'" As remarkable as Nicasio's comeback story is, though, youd hardly know from talking to him now that he beat a traumatic neck injury. The way he downplays his recovery, you'd think he was working back from hamstring tightness or a sprained ankle. Maybe that's because he didn't see returning to baseball as a choice but as a must. Sure, there was fear. Nicasio can remember almost everything that happened on the field that day -- from what people told him after the incident, he was scared he'd never walk again -- but his desire to pitch again was too great to let the fear take over. "I was working hard, thinking every day 'I want to play again,'" Nicasio said. "I feel the same (physically) now. Everything's the same as before." Nicasio's return to the field started over the winter in the Dominican Republic, where he's from, and is set to culminate Saturday, when he is slated to pitch in the Rockies' spring training opener against the Diamondbacks. From the sound of things in Rockies camp, a spot in the rotation is Nicasio's to lose. Manager Jim Tracy said Saturday's appearance will offer him and the rest of the staff a chance to see if Nicasio is where he needs to be to pitch in the majors again, though they like what they have seen already. "Everything that we've seen up to this point is A-plus," Tracy said. "If he's throwing the ball the way he was before he's hurt, I would find it very hard to try to figure out how you would be able to keep him out of the rotation." In 14 starts last season, Nicasio went 4-4 with a 4.14 ERA and 7.28 strikeouts per nine innings. That performance has him on the inside track among a crowded field vying for jobs in the rotation, but he knows nothing is being handed to him, particularly with talents such as Drew Pomeranz, Tyler Chatwood, Alex White and Guillermo Moscoso in the hunt. "It's not going to be easy," Nicasio said. "Everybody's working hard. You see a lot of young guys, good pitchers here." Tracy has called Nicasio's recovery a "miracle" on more than one occasion and believes there aren't strong-enough words to describe the fact that Nicasio is pitching today. "Courage is a tremendous word, and it says an awful lot, but in the case of (Nicasio), I don't know that it's quite strong enough," Tracy said. "'Will' is another one. In this kid's case, I think it's a combination of both." Nicasio's teammates, too, have been inspired by his determination. He's even served as a bit of a rallying point for a team looking to rebound from a bitterly disappointing 2011 season. More than anything, Rockies players have been awed by Nicasio's fortitude in returning from such a traumatic injury. "It's breathtaking what he's accomplished, to come back and do what he's done," veteran first baseman Jason Giambi said. "The biggest thing we've all been impressed with is that he hasn't been nervous or had any fear at all. He hasn't flinched one bit. It's been pretty incredible how he's really transformed and gained this confidence through it instead of having fear." While returning from such a serious injury assuredly dwarfs the typical baseball challenges for Nicasio, it also provided new perspective for his teammates. It might be easy to get worked up about a bad day at the plate or a prolonged slump, but there are much greater challenges out there. "In the grand scheme of things and life, here you're talking about a kid, like they said, was very close to not being around or being paralyzed for the rest of his life," Giambi said. "I think you're reminded that this is only a game. At the end of the day, you still have your life."
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