Right-hander sheds shaky start to lock down fifth win vs. Reds
By Curt Hogg
MILWAUKEE -- Jimmy Nelson, the best starting pitcher for the Brewers through the first two months of the season, has avoided major trouble on the mound for most of the 2016 campaign. Early in Sunday's game against the Reds, however, he found himself in a tight spot.
After six of Cincinnati's first seven batters reached base to put Milwaukee in an early deficit, Nelson rebounded to post yet another sound outing and pick up the win in the Brewers' 5-4 triumph.
"I don't think it was his best performance of the year, but he figured out enough certainly to get it going, and that's what you want to do," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "You're not going to have your 'A' stuff or your 'A' delivery every day, but figure out a way to put up zeros and get deep into the game."
Get deep into the game Nelson did, going 7 1/3 innings and allowing just two runs on six hits and two walks while striking out five. It was the third time in his last four starts that Nelson has pitched into the eighth.
He escaped the first inning unscathed thanks to foiled stealing attempts by Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton and second baseman Brandon Phillips. The speedy Hamilton led off the game with a hustle double that barely left the infield and was immediately itching to run. Nelson used Hamilton's aggressiveness against him, picking him off of second base.
"We knew he was going to run," catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. "I went out there and told Jimmy, 'Mix your looks up. You know he's going to run sooner or later. Take a pretty hard look at him.' And he did."
Lucroy threw out Phillips attempting to steal second to end the frame. But the Reds offense picked right back up where it left off in the top of the second. Jay Bruce lined a solo homer to right field to lead off the inning, then a hit batter and consecutive singles loaded the bases for the Reds with no outs.
"I was a little concerned in that second inning, really," Counsell said. "We were sitting there and the pitch count was going up there, getting high."
Nelson gave up one run on a Tucker Barnhart double play and ended the inning by inducing a groundout from pitcher Brandon Finnegan. Milwaukee's offense came back from the 2-1 deficit, and Nelson returned to the form that the Brewers have seen all season, retiring 17 of his final 21 batters and not surrendering any more runs.
"All we can do as starters is try to put up zeros and give us a chance to come back," Nelson said.
Nelson improved to 5-3 on the season with a 2.88 ERA and team-high 59 strikeouts in 72 innings. The secret to his success in 2016? According to Lucroy, it's being "effectively wild."
"When guys step in the box, they know they can't really bank on a pitch where they're looking at," Lucroy said. "He doesn't walk a lot of guys, but he has a lot of movement within the zone. He throws strikes, but they're not going to hit my spot every time; they're going to be kind of spread around. Hitters know that. That plays for Jimmy."
Curt Hogg is a reporter for MLB.com based in Milwaukee. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.