Kevin Nolan doesn’t know where he will begin his sixth professional season. But whether it’s with Buffalo at the Triple-A level or back in Manchester for his second Double-A season with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, Nolan said, he’ll be ahead of the game health-wise compared to last year.
“I didn’t really have a full spring training camp last year,” the Nashua native said. “I’m not a guy who makes excuses, but a few seasons back, I did hurt my hamstring, and I tweaked it again last spring. I had to take things slowly rehabbing it. Before you knew it, spring training was over, and I just went into the season with New Hampshire.”
Nolan said it took half the season to strengthen his legs, which explains his strong finish.
He had more hits during the final full month of the season, 32, than in any previous month. August also saw him post season highs in runs (19), walks (12), doubles (8) and triples (2).
Not only that, the 26-year-old shortstop said, he also finished the season playing his best defense of the year.
“Once my legs got right, things started to click, especially on defense,” he said.
The numbers support that claim. Over the first four months of last season, Nolan committed 23 errors. In August, he made three.
“I was able to move better, ranging left to right without any hesitation,” he said of that final month. “There’s no question I had a tough middle part of the season, and I knew I could play better. But once my legs came back, I just got stronger. By August, I kept remembering how my father always told me to finish the season: strong.
“I felt I did that and more. I put together good at-bats, just barreled up on the ball. From a personal standpoint, I don’t focus in on stats. I just concentrate on staying consistent, playing consistently well. If you do that, usually the numbers and the stats take care of themselves.”
Nolan ended up leading the Fisher Cats with 118 hits He had five four-hit games, two five-RBI games and a nine-game hitting streak. He also had 30 multi-hit games to lead the team. Overall, he played in a career-high 120 games and produced a .262 batting average with 60 RBIs and nine home runs.
“Playing 120 games was great, and by the end of the season, I also felt great,” he said. “How could anyone not love it? I enjoyed competing and trying to win every game. The strength coaches and trainers had a lot to do with it, too. They did so much to help me get stronger as the season went along.”
A 2006 graduate of Nashua High School South, Nolan was Gatorade’s New Hampshire Baseball Player of the Year as a senior. Three years later, during his junior season at Winthrop University in South Carolina, the Blue Jays selected him in the 20th round of the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft.
The first New Hampshire native ever to play for the Fisher Cats, he made the 2013 Eastern League All-Star team and earned his first big-league call-up. Over six games with the Blue Jays, he went hitless in three at-bats but did score a run.
“Last season was fun, but now a new one starts again,” Nolan said.
He expected to learn today or Saturday where his season will start.
“If I start in New Hampshire, I’m going to work harder and try to move up,” he said. “I know I’m capable of having a better season than last year, especially coming off a productive spring training for me.”