SARASOTA, Fla. -- Nick Nelson's four-pitch mix has prompted Yankees coaches to opine that the right-hander could pitch in a variety of roles for this year’s club, a belief strengthened by two sharp innings in his first Grapefruit League outing of the spring.
The 25-year-old Nelson retired six of the seven batters he faced in Monday’s 5-4 victory over the Tigers, registering a strikeout. After pitching to a 4.79 ERA over 11 relief appearances for New York last season, Nelson believes that he could crack the Opening Day roster as a starter or a reliever.
“I learned that I can trust my pitches, that I don’t have to be too fine with them,” Nelson said. “That was a big thing I took away. Going into the offseason, I had an idea of what I needed to do and what I needed to work on from a pitching standpoint and a weightroom standpoint.”
The Yankees project to carry eight relievers to begin the season. Six of those slots appear to be assured: Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, Chad Green, Darren O’Day, Justin Wilson and Luis Cessa. Manager Aaron Boone and pitching coach Matt Blake are both high on Nelson, a fourth-round pick by New York in the 2016 MLB Draft.
“He’s got a high-octane fastball, but his calling card is his changeup,” Boone said. “That changeup to go along with a high-90s fastball is something we really like. It feels like he continues to grow in his polish, and he’s definitely someone we are excited about. I’m quite certain he can impact our bullpen in a short situation but also have the ability to give us innings as well.”
Nelson said that he would love to be a starter, but he is growing more comfortable with relieving.
“The biggest [adjustment] was not throwing that many pitches in the bullpen,” Nelson said. “It’s kind of challenging, but at the same time, I think it’s kind of cool. There’s a lot of anticipation building up as a starter -- you get there at a certain time, you go through your routine and whatnot. As a reliever, once your name gets called, you don’t really have much to think about. I think it calmed my nerves being in the bullpen.”
Aaron Hicks is projected to begin the season as the Yankees’ No. 3 hitter, according to Boone, who likes Hicks’ switch-hitting ability, on-base skills and ability to keep the ball off the ground. Hicks has said that he feels fully recovered from the Tommy John surgery that he underwent following the 2019 season, and Boone said that the center fielder appears to be in “great shape.”
“I’ve loved his live ABs,” Boone said. “A couple of walks out of the chute, which is very Aaron Hicks, but his defensive work has been really good, and I’ve loved his competitiveness in some of our live BPs. I’m excited about where Aaron is right now.”
Green was originally scheduled to be on Tuesday's trip to Sarasota to play the Orioles, but Boone opted to keep the right-hander back at George M. Steinbrenner Field, where he pitched in live batting practice instead.
“We’re just trying to be wise and slow-play our higher-leverage relievers as far as game action,” Boone said. “We’re trying to be mindful of innings coming off the last season. I want to be mindful of that with our relievers as well, so there’s a good chance we might hold some of these guys back and keep them in more controlled environments.”
Oswald Peraza, the Yankees’ No. 4 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, was on the travel roster for Tuesday’s game. The 20-year-old shortstop is lauded for having some of the best tools in the system, including excellent bat-to-ball ability and athleticism in the field.
“He’s a good-looking player on both sides of the ball and a guy that has a very bright future,” Boone said. “He’s still a ways away, but he’s a guy that from a future standpoint that we’re about as excited as you can be. He looks like a guy that’s going to be an everyday shortstop in this league.”
Gio Urshela is expected to play in his first spring game on Thursday against the Phillies in Clearwater, Fla. Urshela had surgery to remove a bone spur from his right elbow after the playoffs.
Estevan Florial’s arrival in camp continues to be delayed by a visa issue related to the pandemic. Florial is currently in the Dominican Republic.
The Yankees will be under the lights for the first time this spring on Wednesday, hosting the Blue Jays at George M. Steinbrenner Field. First pitch is set for 6:35 p.m. ET. Right-hander Corey Kluber is scheduled to make his Grapefruit League debut for New York, while right-hander Simeon Woods Richardson will be on the mound for Toronto. There is no television or radio broadcast.