MILWAUKEE -- Right-hander Jimmy Nelson took a line drive to the head last September, so one could hardly blame him for throwing up his glove at a comebacker in his fourth inning of the season on Tuesday. Yet it was that split-second reaction that spoiled his encouraging 2016 debut.
Hunter Pence's line drive deflected off Nelson's glove for an infield hit, extending a Giants rally for Matt Duffy's go-ahead groundout in the Brewers' 2-1 loss at Miller Park. Nelson did his part by pitching into the eighth inning, but he was left to lament what he termed a "tough break" in his loss.
"It was probably right at [second baseman] Scooter [Gennett] for a double play," Nelson said, "but it is just reaction. It was a tough break type of thing. It is just reaction. Especially after what happened last year, I'm trying to catch everything."
Nelson led the Brewers last season in starts, innings, victories and strikeouts, but he did not throw a pitch after a Tommy Pham liner struck the right side of his head in a Sept. 17 start against the Cardinals. The Brewers ended Nelson's season as a precaution, but he insisted this spring it is a non-issue, going so far as to decline an opportunity from Major League Baseball to try a new version of the padded cap meant to protect pitchers.
Against the Giants in his first regular-season outing since that incident, Nelson allowed two runs on five hits in 7 1/3 innings. He pitched into the eighth for the first time since last June, ending a streak of 15 regular-season starts cut short in seven innings or fewer.
"I think it is a good start to build off of," he said.
"He was good all night. It's great to see," manager Craig Counsell said. "That's a tough lineup, and he certainly matched [Giants starter Johnny Cueto.]"
Cueto allowed one run in seven innings.
The Giants' other run came courtesy of shortstop Brandon Crawford, who hit a first-pitch changeup leading off the third inning for a home run. Nelson focused on that pitch all spring, aiming to feature it more prominently with his fastball/curveball/slider mix.
"It's still an important pitch for him," Counsell said. "He threw one early in the game, the first inning. He's going to throw it. It's about him going to the next level, and [the changeup] is going to get him to the next level. Make a good pitch on it and it's a groundout to second."
Said Nelson: "That's not going to scare me away from throwing it. I have just as much confidence in it. I just have to execute better."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.