MILWAUKEE -- A tough season got tougher Friday for Brewers pitcher Jimmy Nelson, who landed back on the 10-day injured list after developing fluid around his right elbow.
The Brewers recalled right-hander Corbin Burnes to take Nelson’s spot amid a series of moves to shake up the roster. The Brewers also recalled second baseman Keston Hiura and utility man Tyler Saladino in place of two slumping hitters in Travis Shaw (optioned to Triple-A) and Hernan Perez (designated for assignment).
For Nelson, this development continues a maddening series of starts and stops that began in September 2017 when he injured his right shoulder and required major surgery.
“I’m tired, but I’ll keep working,” he said. “I’m not going to stop.”
The elbow issue dates back to the end of Spring Training, when discomfort scuttled a plan to have Nelson open the season at Triple-A San Antonio. He eventually resumed throwing, went on a rehab assignment and made it back to the Majors, but he revealed on Friday that he has been managing symptoms in his elbow throughout that process.
Asked to describe those symptoms, Nelson said, “It’s long-winded, you can’t really go over all that right now. It’s real. ... It’s tough timing. It sucks. I did what I could to try to work through it and I’ve been doing everything I can to improve it. It’s just kind of come to a head where it needs to be addressed.”
“We noticed [the discomfort] was more pronounced when he was throwing before the game [Thursday],” Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns said. “It didn't look great. It didn't look free and easy. He talked to our training staff about it and it seemed like the level of discomfort had increased a little bit.
“After talking to Jimmy after the game, this was the wise thing to do. It's not the fun thing to do, it's not the easy thing to do. I think Jimmy would have loved to try to keep pushing through this, but this was the smart thing to do.”
Nelson, who missed the end of 2017, all of ’18 and the start of ’19 while recovering from the shoulder surgery, made three ineffective starts for the Brewers before being shifted to the bullpen for a scoreless four-walk, two-hit, two-inning stint against the Mariners on Tuesday. He was “fortunate” to escape without allowing a run, said manager Craig Counsell, though Counsell and the Brewers were encouraged to see Nelson throw his six firmest fastballs this season, topping out at 95.3 mph, according to Statcast. In his three starts, his best fastball was 94 mph, and Nelson increasingly relied on his curveball, throwing it for 52 of his 94 pitches in a June 20 loss to the Reds.
Overall, Nelson is 0-2 with an 8.36 ERA in the Majors this season. In 14 innings, he has allowed 14 runs (13 earned) on 18 hits and 14 walks (one intentional) with 15 strikeouts.
Nelson had been looking forward to a new chapter in the bullpen. Now, that is on hold.
Stearns expects Nelson to be shut down for about a week before resuming throwing.
“There’s a pretty high level of frustration for Jimmy; I understand that,” Counsell said. “But we have to still make good decisions with our health. Jimmy has some sentiment that he believes he can pitch through it and wants to pitch through it, but we don’t think it’s the right thing to do because we don’t want him going out on the mound and after all this hard work [having a major setback].
“In the big picture, I think Jimmy is making a lot of progress in getting there. This sample in the big leagues hasn’t gone the way we’ve wanted it to go, but I really believe that Jimmy is making progress and there are a lot of positive steps happening. The small picture says no, probably, but I think in the big picture, yes, good things are happening. I don’t want to stop that; I want that to keep going on and that’s why we still have to be careful when things pop up with him.”