That risk is starting to pay off. The Dodgers added Nelson to the 40-man roster on Thursday, another sign that the right-hander will likely be on the team’s Opening Day roster. In order to make room on the 40-man, the Dodgers predictably moved Tommy Kahnle, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery, to the 60-day injured list.
“These guys gave me an opportunity last year, but I definitely felt like this is the right place to be to help me stay healthy and develop,” Nelson said earlier this spring. “I couldn’t be happier.”
Nelson missed the entire 2020 season after undergoing back surgery during Summer Camp. The Dodgers let Nelson go as they tried to clear room on the 40-man roster in order to protect players from the Rule 5 Draft in December, but it didn’t take long for Nelson to return on a Minor League deal.
It’s been a long road back for the right-hander, but he's spent the spring quelling any doubts that he's healthy.
The 31-year old had a breakout season with the Brewers in 2017, going 12-6 with a 3.49 ERA over 29 starts. In 2018, however, Nelson suffered a right rotator cuff strain and partial anterior labrum tear and needed major shoulder surgery, sidelining him for the entire ’18 season. He returned toward the end of the ’19 season, but wasn’t able to find success, posting a 6.95 ERA in 10 appearances.
But now, a fully healthy Nelson has been a standout at Dodgers camp. He hasn’t allowed a run in Cactus League play, tossing seven scoreless innings and striking out nine in the process. His fastball velocity is back near the mid-90s and his elite curveball has returned to form. He pitched a couple of innings in a “B” game on Wednesday.
“It’s just coming into camp and feeling the best I’ve felt since 2017, it’s fun to be out there again,” Nelson said. “It’s fun to be around the guys in the clubhouse and just be on the field, whether it’s doing drills or bullpens.”
Making the 40-man roster is an accomplishment for Nelson, but now the Dodgers need to decide if he’ll be on the Opening Day roster, which seems very likely now. Nelson would give the Dodgers another multi-inning reliever and even more starting pitching depth behind their other seven capable Major League options.
“We plan on meeting and putting our heads together, but Jimmy has done everything he can to break with us this year,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “He fits a lot of roles for us. Leverage, length, starter, reliever, so he can do a lot of different things. He’s done everything he could do.”
Neuse optioned, roster starts taking shape
The Dodgers’ other roster move on Thursday was optioning infielder Sheldon Neuse to the Minors, cutting the spring roster to 36. The bench picture also becomes much clearer with the decision to option Neuse.
Neuse was in the mix for the last bench spot because he gave the Dodgers another right-handed option. But with Neuse being sent down, that could clear the way for Zach McKinstry, who has been very impressive this spring, to claim the last spot. The Dodgers also have the option to trade for a right-handed bat before Opening Day. Non-roster invitee Andy Burns is also a possibility, though that appears to be unlikely.
Neuse, acquired from the A’s this offseason, is hitting .273 (9-for-33) in 18 games this spring.
Ríos expected back Friday
Edwin Ríos hasn’t played in a Cactus League game since last Friday and Roberts said the infielder has been dealing with a “mild hamstring type thing” and was shut down for a few days. Ríos has done some running the last few days, according to Roberts, and he’s expected to be back in the lineup on Friday against the A’s.
Ríos is expected to be on the Opening Day roster as one of the team's five bench players. He'll also provide depth behind Justin Turner at third base and can serve as the team’s designated hitter against American League teams.
Clayton Kershaw will make his last start of the spring on Friday against the A’s at 6:05 p.m. PT, live on MLB.TV. Kershaw will be the Dodgers’ Opening Day starter, but will look to resolve some issues that have affected him this spring, including his fastball velocity. The A’s will counter with right-hander Chris Bassitt.