Nelson's mix the right blend vs. the best

D-backs rookie keeps Trout, Ohtani in check en route to a stellar 7 1/3 innings

July 2nd, 2023

ANAHEIM -- When you’re going well and having success, baseball is a fun game that almost feels easy.

When you’re struggling, desperate to find what it is that will get you back on track, it can feel like a complete grind with no end in sight.

When he first came to the Majors last September, D-backs starter could seemingly do no wrong. In three games down the stretch, he compiled a 1.47 ERA. This year, after his first 15 starts, Nelson’s ERA sat at 5.31 and the frustration was evident in his face on the mound and during postgame interviews.

After holding the Angels to just one run over 7 1/3 innings in Arizona’s 3-1 victory on Saturday night at Angel Stadium, Nelson has put together back-to-back near dominant starts. Last time out, he allowed one run over seven innings against the Giants.

Sure, you can tell looking at the numbers that things have improved for Nelson, but D-backs manager Torey Lovullo said you can also notice by the right-hander’s body language.

“I pay attention to those things,” Lovullo said. “This game is hard, and you’ve got to fight sometimes. And he kept fighting. He's coming out the other end now, and he’s doing a great job for us.”

Nelson handled the two toughest hitters in the Angels lineup -- and two of the better hitters in baseball -- with seeming ease. He struck out Mike Trout two of the three times he faced him and retired Shohei Ohtani all three times he faced him, two by strikeout.

“Those are some guys that you don't really want to fall behind on,” Nelson said. “Executed some good pitches and kept them off balance.”

After Nelson’s initial struggles this year, pitching coach Brent Strom wanted him to mix up his pitches more instead of just relying too heavily on his fastball. The thought was the more he is able to do that, the more effective all of his pitches will be.

It seems to be working.

“For me, it’s been his changeup,” Lovullo said. “He seems to just have a really good feel for that and can land it and change speeds front to back. And then to right-handed batters, I think he's thrown a really effective slider. He’s got a lot of weapons, and it's all set up by a really aggressive fastball.”

On Saturday, he needed just 10 pitches to get through the first inning and he opened the eighth having thrown just 82 pitches.

“It's the ability to make quality pitches early in games and mix it up -- what I'm attacking them with,” Nelson said. “And I think that it's freed up a lot of my other weapons for me to use.”

Nelson’s outing is part of what has been a nice run for the starting rotation. Except for Brandon Pfaadt’s rough start Thursday, Nelson, Tommy Henry and Zach Davies have each turned in impressive outings this time through the rotation.

It couldn’t come at a better time for the D-backs, who saw one of their rotation stalwarts, Merrill Kelly, go on the injured list Monday with a blood clot in his lower right leg.

Kelly is not expected to miss much more than two weeks, but any absence by him is a big one. Having younger pitchers like Nelson and Henry, along with the veteran Davies, step up this week has been a big lift.

“For me personally, I just want to help this team win,” Nelson said. “I think we've got a lot of things moving in the right direction, and I just want to help this team win however I can.”