PITTSBURGH -- Jimmy Nelson is expected to miss "a chunk" of the 2018 season while recovering from right shoulder surgery, Brewers general manager David Stearns said Wednesday.
Nelson hoped for better news from his Tuesday afternoon surgery in Los Angeles, saying last week that doctors told him there was a chance they would not have to repair his partially torn labrum. When Dr. Neal ElAttrache got into the joint for a look, however, a repair was deemed necessary. Stearns offered no specific timetable for Nelson's rehabilitation.
"This is probably somewhere in the middle of the scenarios," Stearns said. "The best-case scenario Jimmy told you guys was the doctor goes in there and it's a relatively minor procedure, and he has the potential to be back at the front end of next year. Obviously, we don't think that is going to be the case. We do think he is going to miss a chunk of next year.
"But on the plus side, we do think he's going to be able to pitch in the Major Leagues for us at some point next year. We don't know exactly when, but we'll see how the rehab goes."
Nelson was enjoying a breakthrough in his age-28 season, going 12-6 with a 3.49 ERA that currently ranks eighth among qualified National League starters. He was one strikeout away from the 10th 200-strikeout season in Brewers history when he dislocated his right shoulder diving back to first base after singling in the fifth inning of his Sept. 8 win over the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
Because he passed medical tests between innings, Nelson was allowed back on the mound to pitch one more scoreless frame before he exited. An MRI scan the following morning revealed the partial labrum tear and a rotator cuff strain.
Labrum tears can require up to 12 months of rehab in some cases. But working in Nelson's favor, the Brewers believe, is that his was a non-throwing injury, with manager Craig Counsell likening it to a football injury. Nelson told reporters that Brewers head physician Dr. William Raasch told him the procedure he faced has a 90-plus-percent success rate.
"How he responds to it and how he comes back is really the biggest thing," said fellow Brewers starter Zach Davies. "I'm just glad he got through surgery and everything is OK now. He's going to be coming back to the team, and that's a big boost for us, because he contributed to this team and everybody wants him around."
Said Counsell: "Any surgery to a pitcher's arm, elbow, shoulder, you're obviously concerned. But they feel more common now, and guys do come back from them. We know that Jimmy will put in the nth degree of work to come back, so I'm planning on having him back next year. I'm sure we'll have that conversation frequently about patience."
Rookie right-hander Aaron Wilkerson made his first Major League start on Wednesday as the Brewers continued massaging their starting rotation to cover Nelson's absence. Matt Garza is the only starter with an expiring contract, so candidates for the Brewers' 2018 Opening Day rotation include Davies, Chase Anderson, Brandon Woodruff, Josh Hader -- if the Brewers move him back into a starting role -- Junior Guerra -- if the Brewers believe their 2017 Opening Day starter can bounce back from a lost year -- and less experienced players like Wilkerson and Top 30 prospects Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta, each of whom topped out at the Double-A level this year.
The Brewers also have financial flexibility to dabble in a free-agent market expected to be led by Yu Darvish and Jacob Arrieta. And they remain deep in shortstop and center-field prospects if they opt to seek a starter via trade.
"Look, I don't think you ever completely recover from losing a player like Jimmy Nelson. But this is an opportunity for somebody else," Counsell said. "Who that is, we feel like we certainly have a lot of candidates to get that opportunity. That's really what it means to me: It's going to be an opportunity for someone else. Jimmy is going to push himself to get back as quickly as he can."