The Milwaukee Brewers were without one of their better starting pitchers for the entirety of last season in Jimmy Nelson. Nelson partially tore his labrum along with straining his rotator cuff while diving back to first base back in September of 2017 and was originally expected to try to pitch last year, but he never did make it back.
Based on Jimmy Nelson’s 2017 season, the Milwaukee Brewers really could have used him in 2018. In 175.1 innings, Nelson had a 3.45 ERA, 199 strikeouts, and just 48 walks. The most impressive part of his season though was seeing how his stuff had developed.
Nelson’s slider became well known due to how much movement it had on it even though Nelson was still throwing it with high velocity. It clearly became his best and go to pitch in a big situation, and it was impressive to see how the pitch really became something special.
A slider at 90 MPH is not very common, and people may have forgotten just how filthy Nelson was.
Those videos from popular pitching Twitter account “PitchingNinja” show how Nelson uses that power slider in different ways. Sometimes it will break straight sideways like the top video, and sometimes it will have more drop on it. It can break in different ways and there are advantages to either way, and it keeps hitters off balance.
Along with his slider, Nelson also has another pitch with impressive movement: his two-seamer. With the movement of his slider going away from a right-handed hitter, developing a second pitch with good movement in the opposite direction really helped Nelson set up hitters and have really solid sequences leading to a lot of strikeouts.
Returning From Injury
Despite the success Nelson enjoyed in 2017, there is a conversation to be had about his injury and whether he will be able to come back from it as the pitcher he was. A torn labrum along with rotator cuff issues has been known to be “a death sentence” for pitchers, mostly due to complications getting back to throwing high velocity.
Nelson only “partially” tore his labrum, but the point still stands as it is an extremely difficult injury to come back from, and there needs to be reasonable expectations for him. Nelson typically sat around 94-95 mph with his fastball with the ability to get up even higher, and with that high-velocity slider as well, he might struggle to get up that high with consistency any longer.
You have to think that with the whole last season off and now a whole offseason, the Brewers and Jimmy Nelson are working to try and work through the injury and become the pitcher that Nelson can, and needs to be.
Nelson actually threw a bullpen back in September with the goal of coming back last season, and even though that didn’t happen, he now has another whole offseason to recover, meaning he will likely be 100% healthy in spring training, but not necessarily 100% back to the 2017 Jimmy Nelson.
The Milwaukee Brewers will welcome back even a lesser version of Jimmy with open arms. They avoided arbitration with him this offseason with a one year contract, and if the Brewers desire to try and get him back last season is an indicator, Nelson will play a big role in this rotation if he’s up to it.
The rotation is still very much up in the air, with the young Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta looking like they could contend for spots along with Jhoulys Chacin, Chase Anderson, Zach Davies, Junior Guerra in the mix, also with many rumors swirling about starters on the free agent and trade markets.
However, despite all those names, the Milwaukee Brewers are in need of more high-quality starters, and they had that with their top two in 2017 (Anderson and Nelson) but that is not the case for 2019. Anderson struggled mightily with the home run ball in 2018, and cannot be relied upon going forward, and Nelson is clearly a huge question mark, but the Brewers will give him the chance he deserves because they believe in him and his development.
There are very clear reasons to be concerned about Jimmy Nelson and whether he will be able to come anything close to his 2017 season again, and based on the history it does not look good for him. However, there are also reasons to believe that the Brewers and Nelson have handled this rehab process well in terms of the time he’s gotten, and the general attitude they have towards him.
But I believe there is reason to have faith in Nelson, not to come back and be a stud and an ace, but as someone who will help this Milwaukee Brewers team and add another quality option to a unit that needs one.
If Nelson after more than a year and a half off is incapable of coming back and being a high-quality pitcher, then it is what it is, and it would be very unfortunate for a pitcher who was clearly on the rise and ready to take over the top spot of this rotation.