Making Progress in a Rehabilitation Start
After completing the best of his three minor-league rehabilitation efforts, pitcher Jimmy Nelson declined Friday night to speculate about when he thinks he can re-join the Milwaukee Brewers.
But it's clear that he is feeling good and is getting sharper with his command.
Nelson felt so good when he exited the game in the sixth inning against the Memphis Redbirds, he joked with Missions manager Rick Sweet that he wanted more.
"I felt good today," Nelson said. "I felt like I could have gone another couple innings. I didn't feel fatigued or tired or anything. I kind of joked around with Sweety a little bit, about taking me out. (I was) giving him a little grief."
Knocked out of action in 2017 with a career-threatening shoulder injury, Nelson was on a 90-pitch limit against the Redbirds.
The big right-hander made the most of it, throwing 86 pitches, including 54 for strikes, in front of 5,212 fans at Wolff Stadium.
So, what did Nelson say, as the Brewers' veteran Triple-A manager walked to the mound with two out in the top of the sixth, and asked for the ball?
"He (says), 'I got four pitches left,' " Sweet told reporters after the Missions scored a 5-3 victory over the Redbirds.
Added Nelson, "If you're wanting to get taken out, you shouldn't be in this game. He knows how it is. It was just a fun little moment."
Some would say that it's about time that Nelson is able to have some fun again.
He hasn't pitched in the big leagues since September of 2017 when he tore up his right shoulder in a game at Chicago's Wrigley Field.
Lunging head-first back into first base on a pickoff attempt, Nelson damaged the labrum, the posterior capsule and the rotator cuff.
As a result, he underwent surgery and hasn't pitched in the majors since.
On top of all that, Nelson recently helped his wife through a difficult pregnancy, which culminated in the birth on April 28 of twin daughters in Houston.
Is it any wonder that he experienced some bumpy moments in his first two outings with the Missions, in the Pacific Coast League, on May 3 and May 11?
Nelson was much better on his third try.
"It's just a matter of getting into a routine, really," said Nelson, who lives in The Woodlands. "You know, I'm a very routine-oriented person. Things have been kind of hectic the last two or three weeks for me. There's a lot of mental stress that's off me, knowing that my girls are healthy."
Against Memphis, Nelson (2-0) pitched a nearly seamless 5 and 2/3 scoreless innings to emerge with the victory.
The Redbirds scratched out only three hits, all singles. Nelson, meanwhile, showed excellent command, walking just one while using a variety of pitches to record eight strikeouts.
"From my standpoint, it's the best he's pitched (with the Missions)," Sweet said. "The ball came out very easy. He didn't have any of those balls that he yanked. It was the best game he's had ... He had command of all of his stuff."
Nelson is scheduled to make one more start in Triple-A before the organization re-evaluates the situation. He's on the Missions' board to work next Thursday's game at Round Rock, against the American Southern Division leaders in the Pacific Coast League.
But after Nelson's big step forward against the Redbirds, Sweet hinted that he thinks a return to Milwaukee might not be too far off.
"He's getting closer," the Missions' manager said. "Without a doubt, he's getting closer. Whether he needs more (time), that's not for me to say, because it depends on need, and where it fits. But he's definitely improving with every outing.
"I think that's the key. He's improved with every outing. His stuff has improved."
Even though his velocity registered only in the 92-93 mph range at the top end, Nelson had the Redbirds flailing.
"It was a pretty solid mix (of pitches)," he said. "A couple of (the strikeouts) were on sliders. A couple were on curve balls. And then I think I got a couple on heaters up, and I think one was on a fastball looking. So, it was kind of a mixed bag of everything."
Asked if that sort of thing was a positive sign, Nelson agreed that it was. But as for when he thinks he might be ready to pitch for the Brewers, he declined to say, noting, "I don't know, man. I'm just taking it start by start."
"There's a little saying," Nelson said, "that you can't look so far ahead that you trip on something right in front of you. I know that I got four or five days, to get some quality work (and) get ready for Round Rock."
From 2013-17, Nelson lived the dream of playing in the big leagues. The Oregon native produced a 33-44 record with a 4.12 earned run average for the Brewers.
In 2017, he emerged as the staff ace, going 12-6 with a 3.49 earned run average, which ranked ninth in the National League at the time that he got hurt.
Addressing the entire episode of battling through the injury, surgery and rehabilitation, Nelson said he thinks he's improved his pitching mechanics.
As a result, he said he thinks the improvements could extend his career.
"I think that's going to pay off in the future," said Nelson, 29. "I might look down the road in five, six, 10 years, or whatever, and say that this is a blessing in disguise. That it forced me to really revamp some things mechanically, that might extend my career longer than it might have been previously, if I didn't get injured."
American Southern Division - Round Rock 25-15, San Antonio 24-17, New Orleans 22-20, Oklahoma City 13-26.
American Northern Division - Iowa 25-17, Memphis 21-20, Omaha 19-22, Nashville 14-26.
Zack Brown (1-3, 5.36) for San Antonio vs. TBD, for Memphis
Missions -- Tyler Saladino drove in a run in the third inning with a double, his fourth two-bagger in two nights.
In the fourth inning, the Missions scored four runs on three hits, two walks and two batters who were hit by pitch. The hits included a double by Nate Orf, an RBI single by Lucas Erceg and a single by Nelson, who also scored one of the runs. Jake Petricka pitched the ninth inning for his second save.
Redbirds -- Adolis Garcia belted a two-run home run for Memphis in a three-run eighth. It was Garcia's second homer in two nights against the Missions and his 11th of the season. Rangel Ravelo picked up two hits to give him five in two games.
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