Milwaukee Brewers: A deeper look at the Jimmy Nelson injury

MILWAUKEE, WI - SEPTEMBER 17: Jimmy Nelson /

By now, any fan who remotely follows baseball is aware of what happened to Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Jimmy Nelson.

In an unfortunate base running blunder, Nelson suffered a strained rotator cuff. But if only that were the whole story. The Milwaukee Brewers righty also has a partially torn anterior labrum to add to his collection of shoulder misfortune.

Labrum and rotator cuff are scary to hear for any player, but even worse for a pitcher. On more than one occasion careers came to a close due to these particular issues. The key to each of these, and projecting outlook, is in the words.

Rotator Cuff Strain

With this part of Nelson’s injury the important word is “strain.” It is hard to even find a recovery time for this injury. Typing it into a search engine results in information about a rotator cuff tear. Finally, however, I ran across a helpful website. The recovery time given for this specific injury is a maximum of six weeks.

That makes sense considering the delicacy of the shoulder, especially for a pitcher. Nelson is lucky this was not a more serious tear. As that would require four to six months after surgery. But the surgery idea will be tabled for a later.

All in all, this isn’t the biggest worry for the Milwaukee Brewers. Not to downplay any form of shoulder injury, but there is another part to the overall injury that is much more worrisome.

Partially Torn Anterior Labrum

This is the biggie. A complete tear could possibly result in the end of a career. Pitchers are never the same after this type of injury. There is writing from 2004 and again in 2015 that both spell out the detriment of a compete labrum tear.

Now, Nelson does not have a complete tear. That is the good news for the Milwaukee Brewers. A good explanation about the set up of the joints in the shoulder can be found here. Essentially, the labrum is a massively important part to the range of motion of a shoulder.

The kind of tear most often associated with baseball players is known as a SLAP tear. This is a tear in the anterior labrum as a cause of overhead movements like pitching.

Whether surgery be the road taken or not, physical therapy is always involved in a labrum recovery process. For a minor labrum issue, the information linked above from the Sutter Health foundation, says it will be at least two months of physical therapy.

Surgery Or Not?

This is the big question. Nelson and the Milwaukee Brewers are still weighing all of the options to figure out exactly what to do. It is not an easy decision to make. Either way there will be physical therapy ahead. It will all depend on the severity of the rotator cuff strain and the labrum tear.


The hope is that Nelson will be ready come Opening Day next year. With just a partial tear, it is entirely possible he will be recovered in time to do that.

But it is also realistic to say it could be longer. The nature of shoulder issues is that they need to be dealt with a certain amount of delicacy. Players like Gil Meche or Johan Santana, who both experienced some form of shoulder injury, were out for two years before coming back. And they weren’t the same pitcher after.

Now, Meche needed his rotator cuff repaired, and Santana  had surgery on an anterior capsule. Regardless, they show what shoulder injuries have the potential of doing. Though it was from 2004, the article written by Will Carroll throws out a scary number. At the time it was written, 36 pitchers had labrum surgery in the last five years and only one returned to MLB competition.

There are plenty of success stories too. Look at Chris Carpenter of the St. Louis Cardinals. He had labrum surgery back in 2003, then went on to win World Series rings and Cy Young awards. So, the career for Nelson is not a death sentence. The Milwaukee Brewers may get their pitcher back after all.

Also remember, these examples are full tears. Nelson suffered a partial tear and a strain.

Next: Comparing 2017 to past playoff runs

A lot still hinges on the decision for surgery. Nelson is still getting a second opinion before any decisions are to be made. The Crew can only hop things go well, and just maybe Nelson will be back for the entirety of the 2018 season.