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Nelson pitching to contact, but hits fall in

Brewers' right-hander allows 11 knocks over 5 frames in 3rd rough start
Special to MLB.com

MILWAUKEE -- After Jimmy Nelson walked 86 batters and hit 17 more with pitches in his 179 innings last year, he vowed to rededicate himself to pitching with control in 2017. To a degree, that's worked, with a combined four walks in four of his five starts this year.

However, Nelson has struggled to record outs once the ball is in play. In five innings of his team's 11-3 loss to Atlanta on Saturday, he surrendered 11 hits, matching a career high, including the first of Matt Kemp's three home runs.

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MILWAUKEE -- After Jimmy Nelson walked 86 batters and hit 17 more with pitches in his 179 innings last year, he vowed to rededicate himself to pitching with control in 2017. To a degree, that's worked, with a combined four walks in four of his five starts this year.

However, Nelson has struggled to record outs once the ball is in play. In five innings of his team's 11-3 loss to Atlanta on Saturday, he surrendered 11 hits, matching a career high, including the first of Matt Kemp's three home runs.

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The Braves ultimately finished with 20 hits -- a franchise high since 2008 -- and Nelson was saddled with his third rough outing in a row. He's yielded 15 runs in 15 2/3 innings since two great starts to open the campaign.

"I'm not second guessing myself or my mentality coming into this year at all," Nelson said. "I honestly feel like I'm at peace where I'm at. I did everything I can do in the offseason, physically. My main focus is just executing pitches, and everything else is out of my control."

Nelson was helped by his defense early, when Ryan Braun and Domingo Santana recorded outfield assists in each of the first two innings, nabbing Atlanta batters trying to turn singles into doubles. But the defense was also culpable in the fifth, when a passed ball by Manny Pina led to a two-out run that made it 3-1. It also shifted third baseman Travis Shaw away from the bag with left-handed Freddie Freeman at the plate.

Video: ATL@MIL: Inciarte comes home on a passed ball in 5th

Freeman looped a blooper safely near the bag in Shaw's previously occupied space -- a well-executed pitch that would have yielded the third out were the runner still at third. Kemp followed with a two-run homer.

"Like I said before the season started, forced contact means there's going to be more hits," Nelson said. "You just try to cut down on the things you can control, which is walks and hit batters. More times than not, when guys put the ball in play, it's an out. Tonight, that wasn't the case."

The Brewers are still counting on Nelson to be at the forefront of the team's pitching attack, and he appeared to be on solid footing when he allowed one earned run in each of his first two starts of the year, with 13 strikeouts in 13 innings.

"He threw strikes tonight, he just didn't locate well and he was up a lot for me," manager Craig Counsell said. "He walked one guy tonight and faced a whole bunch of hitters. It was just mistakes tonight. There were a lot of mistakes tonight."

Tommy Milone and Jhan Marinez allowed six runs over three innings of relief as the game slipped away. It was a discouraging showing one night after the bullpen allowed six runs in the game's final three innings and lost a four-run lead. Counsell pointed out that the 2016 team also struggled on the mound before turning it around.

"I have confidence in the bunch [that] they're going to get the ball and have to do the job," Counsell said. "These are our guys. We need them to pitch well, and we'll keep working on it. There's going to be a rough start for everybody during the course of the year, hopefully this is the one for Jimmy and he can turn the page and get it going again."

JR Radcliffe is a contributor to MLB.com based in Milwaukee.

Milwaukee Brewers, Jimmy Nelson