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Nelson hoping Pilates work helps '17 fortunes

Big righty changed offseason workout routine following rough 2016
MLB.com @AdamMcCalvy

PHOENIX -- Success begins from the ground up, Brewers pitching coach Derek Johnson is fond of telling his players. Which helps explain why right-hander Jimmy Nelson spent the winter sweating through Pilates workouts.

The goal is a good base, both with his right leg as it drives Nelson off the mound, and with his left leg as it lands in the dirt. A solid lower half, Nelson said, is critical to keeping his upper half aligned as he delivers a pitch. Pilates offered a path to improvement.

PHOENIX -- Success begins from the ground up, Brewers pitching coach Derek Johnson is fond of telling his players. Which helps explain why right-hander Jimmy Nelson spent the winter sweating through Pilates workouts.

The goal is a good base, both with his right leg as it drives Nelson off the mound, and with his left leg as it lands in the dirt. A solid lower half, Nelson said, is critical to keeping his upper half aligned as he delivers a pitch. Pilates offered a path to improvement.

"You're halfway through the session, and you don't realize, from your knee down, all the little muscles," Nelson said after allowing an unearned run in his one-inning Spring Training debut against the Angels. "In your calf, in your shin. Even the little muscles in your feet. You're like, 'Oh my gosh. I didn't even know I had these.'

"But if you think about it, all those little muscles are what's stabilizing you in your delivery. Your balance. When you're getting over your front leg. It all starts [at the base]."

Nelson took one-on-one sessions three times a week at Powerhouse Pilates in The Woodlands, Texas, beginning in November.

Video: MIL@CIN: Nelson silences Reds through seven

It was exhausting.

"I would go and do a full workout in Tomball [another Houston suburb] and crush weights, and then I would go to a Pilates session and we would do the smallest amount of resistance and I would be struggling," Nelson said. "I was like, 'I'm so sorry. I'm really not this weak.' You're just using small little muscles you're not used to using."

At 27 -- he turns 28 in June -- Nelson faces a critical season. He was a rising talent in 2015 after posting a 4.11 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP in 30 starts in his first full Major League season, but went 8-16 with a 4.62 ERA and a 1.52 WHIP in the follow-up campaign, leading the National League in losses and leading the Majors with 86 walks and 17 hit batsmen.

"He's got to throw more strikes," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "He has never been Zach Davies in the strike zone; he didn't go from the best to the worst by any means ... but he declined. He struggled toward the end of the season, for the last half of the season, and maybe more, really. That is certainly something he knows has to improve.

"It's simple: [Fewer] baserunners is going to equal more success."

He also has a developing pitch in this effort. Nelson tinkered with a split changeup last season, different from fellow starter Junior Guerra's but with the same result: an off-speed offering that dives to the dirt. Nelson used it last season against left-handed hitters but is considering working it into his arsenal against righties in 2017.

He threw two of them Friday, and both got hit, including Kole Calhoun's RBI double. Nelson will keep working on it.

"He got hurt with a two-strike changeup, but his fastball had good action on it in the zone," Counsell said. "I was very pleased."

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast.

Milwaukee Brewers, Jimmy Nelson