MILWAUKEE -- Brewers center fielder Lorenzo Cain was in Los Angeles on Tuesday morning to undergo cryotherapy on his right thumb, the same procedure that has helped teammate Ryan Braun in recent years to overcome a shooting pain from an overactive nerve in his hand.
Cain has quietly been dealing with a similar sensation for weeks, and the pain simply became too much to endure even for a player regarded as one of the team’s toughest. The proof is in Cain’s results: a .253/.314/.357 slash line this season compared to .308/.395/.417 a year ago.
“It just got to the point where we have to do something a little more to give him a chance to get past the pain,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “He’s dealing with it way too much. It has been affecting him, there’s no question about it. So we’ll take a try at this. It’s been successful in Ryan’s case a couple times.”
Braun has had the procedure at least five times since the end of the 2014 season, including last June. Cain saw the same specialist, Dr. Vernon Williams, who injects a subzero substance at the base of the thumb to “freeze” the nerve. In Braun’s case, Williams advised the Brewers that the procedure can be repeated safely as long as is it not done more frequently than every three to four months, perhaps indefinitely if symptoms persist.
Cain is signed through 2022 with salaries of $16 million in ‘20, $17 million in ’21 and $18 million in ’22.
He was to rejoin the Brewers on Tuesday but was not available to play, and he was expected to miss Wednesday’s game against the Mariners, as well. The hope is that the procedure carries Cain to the end of this season.
“I think that’s the goal,” Counsell said. “The challenging part with these thumb injuries is where the nerve gets inflamed, there’s bruising there. It’s hard to heal because you need it every single day. You can never give it a day off. You practice with it and it’s hard to practice with it. I think Lorenzo ran into that where it’s just you can’t work on anything, either. It creates bad habits because you’re trying to avoid it.
“So that’s the goal. The goal is that he can swing a bat without thinking, ‘I don’t want to irritate my thumb.’ Hopefully this procedure helps that.”
Nelson on move to bullpen
Jimmy Nelson made a couple of things clear on Tuesday in his first comments since being shifted from the rotation to the Brewers' bullpen. He does not view the move as a demotion, since bullpens are more important than ever in today’s game. He’s embracing the “second chance” that the change affords. And he’s tired of talk that his reputation as routine-oriented will impede his ability to succeed without the structured schedule of a starter.
“It’s funny. I’ve seen people talking about my routine like it’s a negative thing,” Nelson said before allowing two hits and four walks but logging two scoreless innings of an 8-3 loss to the Mariners. “I never thought I’d see the day where somebody held a routine against somebody. It’s crazy.”
Brewers officials approached Nelson after a loss to the Reds at the start of the team’s current homestand left him 0-2 with a 9.75 ERA. Because he has exceeded five years of Major League service, Nelson had a say in whether the Brewers could option him back to Triple-A San Antonio. So the sides agreed on a move to the bullpen instead.
“I could sit here and be frustrated … about things, but it does this team no good, and in the long run it does me no good, either,” Nelson said. “I was beating myself up pretty bad over the starts because I definitely pictured it going a lot differently for a long time, so I was taking that stuff pretty hard.
“The bullpen stuff is kind of a different chapter, a shift in gears here, and I’m trying to have a positive mindset about it as a challenge. It is fun down there, knowing there’s a chance you could throw any game. To me, I haven’t had fun in this game in a long time. So just to be able to have a little bit of fun each day, even if I don’t get in a game, that I think definitely helps clear my head a little bit.”
Nelson threw in the Miller Park bullpen on Sunday and simulated getting ready to go into a game. He was pleased with how quickly he got loose. He did the real thing Tuesday night, working around six base runners with help from Ryan Braun’s outfield assist in the seventh inning and a double play to end the eighth. Nelson’s first pitch was a season-best 95.3 mph, according to Statcast, and he threw three pitches to the first batter that exceeded his best velocity in any of his three starts. But, that batter, Omar, Narvaez, was the first of Nelson’s four walks.
“The bright side is that the velo was up,” said Counsell. “At the same time, I’d have to say that he was fortunate to put up two zeros there. We had a good throw. Four walks is too many. We’ve got to clean that up.”
Said Nelson of the move: “I think it’ll help me kind of get of my own head a little bit maybe. You get the call and get warm real quick and just get after it and not think about mechanics or about other things.”
Houser to join rotation Wednesday
Why did the Brewers choose Adrian Houser to start Wednesday against the Mariners over Aaron Wilkerson, even though Wilkerson is stretched out as a starter and Houser is not? Because they are taking the long view, Counsell said.
“Adrian is going to get a shot here to start. This isn’t a one-time thing,” Counsell said. “We’re going to move him into the rotation and give him a shot to do this because he’s earned it. He’s pitched really, really well at the big league level. That’s how we see it. ... The goal was to get him back into the rotation and he’s earned his way back.”