Brewers GM David Stearns and manager Craig Counsell indicated today that righty Jimmy Nelson is unlikely to make it back to the hill for the club this season, as Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel was among those to report (Twitter links: 1; 2; 3; 4; 5).
That conclusion was largely evident from the fact that Nelson had not yet begun a rehab assignment. Stearns acknowledged today what was becoming clear, saying that time is running short. Further comments from Counsell removed any remaining doubt as to the team’s expectations. While neither man would rule out the possibility that Nelson will make a surprising late-season return, it seems there’s not much reason at all to think that’ll take place.
Nelson, 28, turned in a strong 2017 effort before succumbing to a shoulder injury that required surgery. He spun 175 1/3 frames of 3.49 ERA ball with 10.2 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, and a 50.3% grounder rate. Despite the season-ending procedure, Nelson’s big year allowed him to command a $3.7MM salary in his first trip through arbitration, a sum the Brewers were glad to pay in hopes that he’d be able to return in 2018 and in order to retain their rights over his 2019 and 2020 campaigns. (He’ll surely command the same amount in arbitration this fall.)
Since Nelson underwent shoulder surgery last September, the organization has expressed varying degrees of optimism that he’d at least potentially be ready to return at some point in 2018. There seemed to be quite a bit of promise in the run-up to camp, with a June return presented as a potential target. Unfortunately, his anticipated mound work continued to be pushed back. As recently as late June, Stearns said the team expected Nelson to appear this season, but the final strides have evidently yet to be made.
As Counsell explains, Nelson’s early rehab work increased expectations. Unfortunately, that did not carry forward to a ramped-up timetable. But the skipper says the goal all along was never to get Nelson back on the mound this year so much as it was to get him back to full health at whatever pace the process would allow.
There isn’t any setback to blame for the fact that Nelson likely won’t return to the MLB roster this year, per Counsell. Rather, the club’s top uniformed decisionmaker says, “it’s just that where we are in the schedule, [Nelson is] not going to get [to] pitch in major-league games.” The goal at this point seems to have shifted to putting Nelson “in a competitive situation” before he takes a breather over the offseason. It’s also possible the righty could appear in winter ball or some kind of instructional league, per Stearns.
Observers have long wondered if Nelson’s absence would lead the Brewers to seek a significant rotation upgrade. The organization has foregone any major moves to this point, though, expressing confidence in a unit made up of preexisting internal options and a few modest additions (namely, Jhoulys Chacin and Wade Miley). Results have been solid thus far, though the starting staff could still represent an area to improve later this month and in the offseason to come. While the team surely maintains hope that Nelson will be ready to go when camp opens next spring, Stearns & co. will have to weigh the ongoing uncertainty in tweaking the roster over the winter.