DENVER -- Jimmy Nelson, the Brewers' 2017 ace before a shoulder injury ended his breakthrough and sidelined him for all of '18, has been released from rehab protocol and is traveling with the team for the remainder of the postseason. His return offered a reminder of the obstacles Milwaukee's pitching staff overcame to reach this point.
No Nelson. Only 13 starts for Zach Davies. A step back for Opening Day starter Chase Anderson, who was left off the National League Division Series roster.
And yet the Brewers matched a franchise record with 96 wins, won the NL Central and find themselves one win away from the NL Championship Series heading into Sunday's Game 3 against the Rockies at Coors Field.
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Nelson was happy to be back. And extremely sad not to be part of the Brewers' first postseason run since Nelson broke into the big leagues.
"There's both," Nelson said. "But I definitely couldn't be happier for these guys. … It always seems like there is a group of guys who picks it up."
Nelson hopes to be one of the guys picking it up next year. He rejoined teammates after some time at Maryvale Baseball Park in Arizona, where he faced hitters for the first time since last year's shoulder surgery, and was supposed to pitch in an instructional league game, only to have it rained out.
The 29-year-old right-hander got his work in on a covered mound instead, and he is now in a rest period heading into what should be a "relatively normal" offseason.
"All the boxes I needed to check off, I checked off," Nelson said. It was a relief.
"His formal rehab is complete. He has returned to pitching," general manager David Stearns said. "That is a great thing to say.
"Now it's, let's go into a normal offseason, get his rest, and then do an intelligent ramp-up to Spring Training and see where we are then. There are still a lot of unknowns here. We have been very explicit about that throughout this. But his return to pitching, we're all happy with it."
Barring offseason moves, Nelson and the Brewers will report to Spring Training flush with starting pitching options. Jhoulys Chacin has another year on his contract and is the early frontrunner to start Opening Day. Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta are poised to rejoin the rotation after serving in the bullpen down the stretch this year. Anderson, Davies and Junior Guerra all remain under club control.
Kratz to start Game 3
With Wade Miley scheduled to start Sunday, 38-year-old Erik Kratz will make the second postseason start of his long career, Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. In Game 2, Kratz became the oldest position player to make his postseason debut since Lave Cross of the 1905 Philadelphia A's, and he contributed a big, two-run single in a 4-0 Brewers win.
"I did not realize the significance of what Erik Kratz did [Friday]," Counsell said. "I happened to see his dad in the tunnel right after the game, and he was absolutely overjoyed, and then it probably struck me after I had a little small conversation with his dad that this was a 38-year-old player starting his first playoff game, and then I saw something written that this hasn't happened in a game in forever. I had no thoughts of that kind of going into the game. Erik has done a good job for us. He's earned his starts."
Added Miley: "He's been grinding away at this for a long time and [is an] unbelievable human being. I've gotten to know him -- I played with him for like four days in Boston in 2015. But to actually get to know a guy, what a great human being. I'm proud to call him a teammate and just super excited that he's having such a good year."
Bringing back memories
It was Ryan Braun who brought up the comparison first, and Mike Moustakas who confirmed it. This Brewers bullpen, Moustakas said, is reminiscent of the one the forward-thinking Royals built in 2014 when that team went to the first of consecutive World Series, and not just because it featured a trio of lights-out arms at the back end in Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland -- a la the '18 Brewers' Corey Knebel, Josh Hader and Jeremy Jeffress.
Both clubs also had important arms leading up to those finishers. For the Brewers, the group includes Joakim Soria and youngsters Woodruff and Burnes, who could figure again beginning Sunday after covering the first five innings of Game 1.
"You didn't see too many teams with what we had in '14 and '15," Moustakas said. "What it does for an offense is it takes all the pressure off of you. You go out there, you fight for one run, you fight for two runs. If they tie the game, you go out there and you do whatever you can to get that one run going into the sixth inning. You don't have to play for big innings. You don't have to try to scrap three, four, five runs on the board, because you know those guys at the end of that bullpen are not going to give up too many runs.
"It's a very similar feel to what we have here right now. You get a lead late in the game, you turn it over to those guys, and good luck. It's tough [on the opponent]."