Nelson 'excited' for long-awaited comeback

Righty set for first start since 2017 on Wednesday

June 4th, 2019

MILWAUKEE -- Jimmy Nelson has finally reached the end of his long road back from shoulder surgery, and when he walked through the clubhouse doors at Miller Park, he said it felt the first day of school and Christmas morning all wrapped into one.

Nelson will throw his first Major League pitch since 2017 at 6:40 p.m. CT on Wednesday against the Marlins.

“I woke up really early this morning, couldn’t really sleep,” Nelson said. “I’m just real anxious, excited about it. It was really good to see all the guys. There’s a good family feel in there. They’re all genuinely concerned about not just me, but the family, too. It’s always nice to be back in a familiar place with all your brothers.”

Will he have to work to channel all of those emotions?

“Yeah, especially going out there for the first inning, it’s something I’m going to have to try to slow it down a bit and [keep it] in control,” Nelson said. “But I’m looking forward to it. It’s definitely something you want to deal with. It’s a testament to our fan base and how well they back us as players.”

With Jhoulys Chacin and Gio Gonzalez both on the 10-day injured list, Nelson will be formally called up from the Minors to start for the first time in 2019.

He got the word Sunday morning from Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns, about 30 minutes before the news splashed across social media. Nelson was at the gym, of course. The Brewers had been allowing him to go home to Houston between Triple-A starts so he could be with wife Melissa and their infant daughters, who were born early last month following a difficult pregnancy. Nelson has been juggling fatherly duties and baseball duties, and now it’s time to take the next step.

How’s this for a coincidence: Nelson’s comeback happens to coincide with his 30th birthday.

“We’re definitely appreciative of all the support [from fans],” said Nelson. “It just seemed like a lot of times over the last couple of years it was one bad thing after another, one unfortunate thing or just another hurdle to get over. It seems like we were looking at the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel forever, and then something else always seemed to pop up. It’s really nice to get to this essential mile marker or whatever. But in my mind, there’s still work to be done. I’m not nearly done progressing as a pitcher. I don’t know if I ever will be.

“But I’m just excited to get back to where I belong.”

And the Brewers are excited to have him back.

“He’s certainly put in the work, and credit to him for that,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “He aced that part of it. It’s more than he would have liked, but that’s the way it worked, and that’s the way he healed.

“I don’t think we’ve slow-played it at all. I don’t think we’ve rushed it at all. This is when he was ready to pitch. … He’s got to be happy that he’s in this spot, ready to perform at a high level like he expects and we expect. We’re excited to see him.”

The opening in the rotation came after Chacin hit the IL with a lower back strain, one day after the Brewers placed Gonzalez on the IL with what Counsell called a “dead arm.”

The Brewers already bumped their starters up to cover Gonzalez, so they needed a starting pitcher for Chacin’s spot on Wednesday. They will also restore Freddy Peralta to the rotation to replace Gonzalez on either Thursday against the Marlins or Friday against the Pirates, Counsell said.

Nelson was the Brewers’ best starting pitcher before he got hurt, sitting on 199 strikeouts in his first 175 1/3 innings of 2017 with about three weeks to go. He was 12-6 with a 3.49 ERA that season.

He had surgery to repair the rotator cuff, labrum and capsule in his shoulder on Sept. 19, 2017, and by the following spring Nelson was ahead of schedule and optimistic about making a significant contribution to an ’18 Brewers club that wound up going to the National League Championship Series. But while there was no big setback, his comeback wound up taking longer than Nelson hoped. This spring, he returned to pitching against hitters, but developed some elbow discomfort near the end of camp that further slowed his progress.

Once he got out for a rehab assignment, Nelson went 3-0 with a 3.75 ERA in five games, four starts, for Triple-A San Antonio. His last start was five scoreless innings, a few days after Nelson’s rehab assignment expired and the Brewers opted to option him to San Antonio and allow him to continue to pitch there, rather than bring him to the big leagues. Part of the reason was that the big league rotation was solid at the time.

Nelson was upset.

“I don’t think I would be human if I wasn’t pissed about it,” Nelson said. “I was a little angry, and I was a little disappointed. It was a mixed bag of emotions, especially after all I had been through to get to that point. It’s just a matter of turning those emotions into something that’s productive for you. Certain people have to calm themselves down to turn that into motivation. Some people work better when they do let it anger them. You can turn that into different types of positive reaction, as long as you [make] it productive, and not something that festers in your life.

“So, it was very frustrating. But I tried to keep my nose down and keep working and try to take care of my business. I felt like we were able to do that with the help of [Brewers pitching coach Chris] Hook and [Missions pitching coach] Fred [Dabney].”

He was lined up to pitch again for the Missions on Tuesday, but will work in the Majors instead.

Nelson figures to draw an emotional reception. When he threw his first Cactus League pitch in March, vacationing Brewers fans gave him a standing ovation, and all of Nelson’s teammates lined the top step of the dugout.

“I know it will be similar, just on a much larger scale,” Nelson said. “I’m really excited. Not just for myself, my family and this team, but also for the [fans]. Obviously, I want to go out and perform for them as well. I like to think that they’re excited about it and respect it as well, because I feel like our fan base is a very blue-collar, hardworking people that understand what it’s like to have to work through adversity. I think there’s some mutual respect there between us as players and them.”

Is he ready for this?

“I am,” Nelson said. “I feel like I’m a better pitcher. Just from learning, reading swings, learning how my pitches work off each other. It’s not just a ‘chuck-and-duck’ type game anymore. You have to learn how to use everything. I feel as if I’ve grown, even though I haven’t been in a big league game for so long.”