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Nolasco primed, pumped to open Twins' season

Nolasco primed, pumped to open Twins' season play video for Nolasco primed, pumped to open Twins' season

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Ricky Nolasco is all business. Even in the relaxed clubhouse atmosphere that comes during Spring Training, Nolasco seldom jokes around, and his demeanor on the mound is even more serious.

That's why it comes as no surprise that Nolasco -- who joined Minnesota on a four-year, $49 million deal this past offseason -- is treating his Opening Day assignment for the Twins against the White Sox on Monday at U.S. Cellular Field as business as usual.

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"It's just another game," Nolasco said. "You don't make too much about it. You go out there and do what you got to do -- set the tempo for your team early, get them back in the dugout and try to score some runs. I don't put too much thought into it, just go out there and keep doing what I need to do."

But Nolasco, who will be making his third career Opening Day start after getting the nod for the Marlins in 2009 and '13, still understands how special it is to be chosen to start the first game of the season.

"It is an honor to take the ball any time you get it for Opening Day," Nolasco said. "Everybody's excited to get it going."

The Twins organization is known for its stability, but the rotation has been anything but the past three seasons. Kevin Correia was the only pitcher to make at least 30 starts last year for Minnesota, and no Twins pitcher has reached the 200-inning plateau since Carl Pavano did it in 2011.

That's why Minnesota made it a priority to add a durable presence to its pitching staff this season, and the Twins made a splash by signing Nolasco to the largest free-agent deal handed out by the franchise in late November.

Nolasco, 31, is coming off a strong season split between the Marlins and Dodgers, posting a 3.70 ERA with 165 strikeouts in 199 1/3 innings. He also made 33 starts, marking the fifth time in six seasons that he made at least 30 starts.

"He adds stability," assistant general manager Rob Antony said. "It is one of the things we were striving for. He can give you innings and keep you in games. Is he your prototypical No. 1? No. Is he our most reliable guy? Yes. He has earned the right to be the Opening Day starter."

Twins closer Glen Perkins watched Nolasco this spring, and he came away impressed by Nolasco's work ethic. Nolasco had his own pitching routine early in camp, often throwing more pitches than anyone else during bullpen sessions, and he knows how to keep himself healthy, as he hasn't been on the disabled list since 2010.

A noted follower of advanced statistics, Perkins also pointed out that Nolasco has been among the most valuable pitchers in baseball over the past six seasons, as Nolasco's 19.0 WAR over that period ranks 21st in the Majors, according to Fangraphs.com.

"He's a hard-working guy," Perkins said. "He's one of the first guys here and one of the last to leave. He gets his stuff done. He battles and goes out and gives everything he has and doesn't back down. I think those are good qualities that allow him to pitch deep into games. I think his personality is starting to show now that he's come out of his shell a little bit. But I think that's normal for a guy who is new to an organization or a team. But he's fit in well so far."

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has also noticed Nolasco's workmanlike qualities, and the skipper is excited to see what he can do this year atop the rotation.

"He just knows what he's doing," Gardenhire said. "He goes about his business pretty good. He's pretty tough out there on the mound. You can tell he doesn't like to [mess] around too awful much. He goes right at them, uses his pitches, knows how to add and subtract, all those things that you hope when you brought him over here."

But Nolasco is taking it all in stride, and he's trying not to put any added pressure on himself as the club's highest-paid pitcher and Opening Day starter.

"I think that's why I was brought over here -- it's nothing that's not expected," Nolasco said. "It's something I've done before, and I am just going to go out there and do what I've been able to do throughout my career."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, and follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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{"event":["opening_day" ] }
{"event":["opening_day" ] }