I spoke with Pitching Coach Gary Ruby and Manager Keith Bodie about Tropeano. According to Bodie, the key to Nick's success is trusting his fastball and commanding his fastball, "Sometimes he doesn't know how good his fastball is." He has a terrific arsenal of pitches and mixes them well, but Ruby agrees that Nick's progression ultimately centers around that fastball, "He's a beauty. He's doing fine. What I like about him now, he's throwing more fastballs than he ever did. When I first met Nicky in rookie ball, there was a lot of changeup, a lot of breaking balls, and now he's got a good live fastball in the 90's and he's got a good breaking ball. He's got a split. He's got an exceptional changeup and I think anybody who has ever met him knows how he can compete. He's tough on himself which is not a bad thing. He loves to compete. He's the guy you want on the mound. He's got to trust his fastball like he is right now. He's got so many different ways to get you out. He can roll over inning after inning and get you out a different way. It's a valuable asset. He's doing real well."
Nick Tropeano - May 2013
Photo by Jayne Hansen
What has he accomplished and what is he working on?: "I think I'm just maturing as a pitcher the last year. Obviously, tougher league and all that. I feel like I'm maturing with my fastball and my fastball command, and that's really what I've been stressing in the off-season and that's really what I've been trying to work on in the season so far."
On the tandem starters: "It took a little bit to get used to but I think it's more mental than anything. You come out of the 'pen and you just approach it as a regular start. There are certain routines, stretching-wise and throwing wise ... I just kind of try to stick to that throughout and just pitch [my] game."
Any superstitions or rituals?: "Superstitions I wouldn't say. But routine-wise I try to do the same stretches, same order every time. I've always got to have a big smart water, some kind of huge water bottle that I've got to drink beforehand. Listening to my headphones with my hat on backwards is something I always do. I think that's pretty much it. ["No lucky socks?," I asked] No lucky socks. No lucky jock strap. Nothing like that."
Any coach or manager that's made a particular impact with him?: "I wouldn't say one particular coach but [take] Ruby for example. He's helped us throughout. I was fortunate enough to have Ruby at Tri-City my short season year so we knew each other coming in to this season and he kind of knew how I pitched, what my arsenal was and he just says, 'Pitch your game.' A lot of guys, not really in this organization, they try to steer you in a certain direction but [the Astros' staff have] just said, 'Pitch your game. Do your thing. We'll help you out when need be.' And I like that just because they've got your back whenever you need it and let you do your thing."
Anyone in particular he likes to have behind him in the field?: "The whole team, defensively. The entire season we've been great. Our middle infield. Johnny [Meyer], Johnny's been playing great. Jio [Mier], Kiké [Hernandez], [Erik] Castro. Love the outfielders. Everyone's got a great arm in the outfield. I don't even know how many assists they have this year. Just going out on the mound and knowing that all the guys have got your back, willing to lay their body out on the line for you is a great feeling. I'm proud and happy to have them behind me."
How does he like Corpus so far?: "Corpus is good. A little different from New York. Real humid. A little overcast too much. I've got that Italian skin. I want the sun to come out so I'll get a little tan. Corpus has been good. Fun place to play. Great fan base and all that. A great group of guys that go out on the field every day and have some fun."
What does he think of the changes in the Astros farm system?: "I think that it's night and day, especially since my short season year, just the complete turn-around. Look at all our teams throughout our organization winning .. our winning percentage has skyrocketed. All the changes [are] for the better and [everyone is] just trying to do their part to get us back to where we were as a Houston Astros organization, and it's coming along."
In-n-Out or Whataburger?: "You know I always have this argument with Jio and guys from California. I always thought that In-n-Out was over-hyped. They're saying 'the best place ever,' a little over-hyped. You know what? I'm not even going to go Whataburger or In-n-Out. I'm going to go Five Guys. Five Guys is better to me. But Whataburger has so many more options [than In-n-Out]. In-n-Out, you've got like 3 options. What if I want something else? Whataburger's good. I'll probably have a little tonight in the stands."
There are several Astros minor league fans that call Tropeano NiTro, a clever combination of his first and last names, but for some reason the nickname has always grated on me. He may very well be NiTro on the mound, but there is much more to Nick than that. When I think of Nick, I always go back to the first time I met him last year. I asked my requisite question, "Can you tell me something about yourself that most people don't know and might be surprised to hear?" Nick said, "I'm a lover, not a fighter?," ending the statement with a hint of a question mark and a big smile. That's the Nick I know and like and have nicknamed Sweet Nicky. Undoubtedly, he is a very talented pitcher with a bright future, a fierce competitor that others can call NiTro if they insist, but he's Sweet Nicky to me and once you get to know him, I think he'll be Sweet Nicky to you as well.
Thank you for your time, Nick, and the best of luck as the season unfolds.