"Last few outings have been a battle," said Nelson after falling to 5-4 with a 3.43 ERA.
You couldn't tell from his recent results, which added up to a 1.57 ERA over his previous four starts. Friday, however, was different.
That Nelson kept the Phillies at bay until consecutive three-run outbursts in the third and fourth innings was a credit to the Brewers' corner outfielders. A first inning that began with Nelson walking leadoff man Odubel Herrera on four pitches ended with right fielder Domingo Santana throwing Herrera out at the plate. In the second inning, left fielder Ryan Braun took away an extra-base hit from Cody Asche by making a leaping catch at the wall.
Nelson threw a first-pitch ball to eight of the first 10 men he faced -- and fell behind, 0-2, to five of those 10.
He survived that way until the third, when the breaks began going against Nelson and the Brewers. After Cameron Rupp's home run leading off the frame gave the Phillies a 1-0 lead, a hit and run pulled second baseman Scooter Gennett out of position for what could have been a double-play grounder. That extended the inning for Maikel Franco to drop a two-out single down the left field line, just in front of Braun, followed by singles for Tommy Joseph and Jimmy Paredes, the latter evading Nelson's glove by inches on its way into center field for a 3-0 lead.
The Phillies' lead grew to 6-0 in the fourth, when Braun appeared to throw out Rupp trying to stretch a double, only to see the out overturned via instant replay. That led to a run later in the frame when Nelson surrendered a two-out, three-run home run on a 1-2 pitch to Andres Blanco.
"We've been on the wrong end of replay lately, that's for sure," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said.
It marked the first time in Nelson's career he surrendered more home runs (two) than he recorded strikeouts (one).
"That game could be totally different if I just executed a couple pitches -- the two-out, two-strike pitch in the fourth and a pitch here and there in the third," Nelson said. "I could have minimized the damage a little bit better. It's really frustrating, especially because those guys were making some pretty good plays early on. …
"I pride myself on going deep into games no matter how good or bad I feel that night, how good or bad my command is that night. The bullpen did a great job tonight of giving us a chance to come back. We did a really good job [hitting] against their starter and got him out of there really early. So pretty much it was just me that didn't hold up my part of the job today."