Nelson's stage starting to meet his stature
Hard-throwing, 6-foot-6 Futures prospect moving up professional ranks
NEW YORK -- The first big league All-Star Game staged in the home park of the Mets was played in 1964, and the pitcher who surrendered the final-pitch home run -- hit by Johnny Callison -- in that game was Dick Radatz, all 6-foot-6, 230 pounds of him.
Radatz was big enough to be identified routinely by teammates and journalists as "The Monster." And with the Mets hosting another All-Star Game on Tuesday, and because of how the '64 game ended, Radatz's name -- and nickname -- have been heard frequently around these parts of late.
Six-six, 230 pounds. And he was The Monster?
The All-Star Game has grown remarkably as an event in 49 years, and players are much bigger as well. Three players on the rosters of the teams competing in the SiriusXM Futures Game on Sunday were taller than the late Red Sox reliever. And one of the three -- Jimmy Nelson -- is 6-foot-6, 245.
His all due respect to Mr. Radatz, Jimmy Nelson has more monster in him.
The Brewers' 24-year-old right-handed pitcher and No. 8 prospect, according to MLB.com, stood out in the Mets' clubhouse, the room being used by the United States team Sunday. He might have stood out in any clubhouse without Frank Howard in it. Nelson is a big boy. Three-hundred feet from the mound at the Big Citi and without a baseball, a mound or a catcher in the immediate vicinity, he gave the impression of being a power pitcher.
And he proved it in the seventh inning. The 10 pitches he threw averaged 94.2 mph. He retired two of his three hitters, allowing a walk, and elicited a double play on a sinker.
"I wish I didn't give up that walk, but I wanted to give my defense a chance," Nelson said.
He estimated his velocity to be between 93 and 97 while pitching for the Brewers' Nashville affiliate in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. Radatz had a comparable range on his fastball, including the one Callison turned around.
Nelson says his pitch repertoire includes "the generic four-seam fastball," a changeup, a slider and the sinking fastball that makes his future brighter than that of the average bear. It was that pitch that made his recent promotion -- it happened June 5, his birthday -- necessary. He had little left to prove with the club's Double-A Huntsville team. He had struck out 72 batters in 69 innings -- nice ratio. And he had produced 2.74 ERA and 5-4 record in 12 starts. Opponents had batted .241 against him.
Batters in the PCL, a hitter-happy league, have batted only .235 against him, but Nelson has been troubled by walks at the higher level -- 23 in 32 1/3 innings, a not-so-nice ratio that explains his 1-3 record and 3.62 ERA in six starts.
"I've had problems like that before," he said Sunday before his game. "I've learned how to adjust and overcome problems, and I'll overcome this one, too. It didn't happen because I was moved up. It was just the time for it to happen."
Jimmy Nelson, a wonderfully '50s name, was born in Niceville, Fla., a wonderful '50s-type name. He calls it a Dr. Seuss name. He believes in hard work, and he was looking forward to his inning, the seventh, in a condition borrowed from his home state.
"I'm not afraid to sweat," he said. "Guys call me a wuss 'cause I don't like the cold. "I'm glad the Brewers have a roof. But I tell them, try pitching where I live."
He likens his workout to those of Roger Clemens'.
"He wasn't afraid to work hard, and neither am I," Nelson said. "He competes his butt off. And you have to be in shape to go hard and long."
Indeed, Nelson had to curtail his workouts somewhat, lest he wear himself down in season. But he compensated in the offseason. He missed a month last season because of inflammation in his right shoulder, and then, he said, "I worked harder than ever in the winter."
His dedication also comes from how he believes he is perceived. "I've never been one of the guys in the spotlight from Day 1," he said. But he was Sunday. The elite Minor League players -- those with probably bright futures -- are selected for the Futures Game.
"It's great to be here," he said. "I wasn't planning on it, I wasn't expecting it."
But once the Brewers had him pitch in Arizona Fall League, he sensed he had made himself a tad more conspicuous than he had thought he was.
"If hard work is what it takes," he says, "then I've got a good chance. This is what I want; this is what we all want. To be up here. I'll do what I have to do to get here."