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Mike Bauman

All of a sudden, a mound of homegrown talent

Long in need of rent-a-pitchers, Brewers develop Nelson, who looks like the real deal

All of a sudden, a mound of homegrown talent play video for All of a sudden, a mound of homegrown talent

MILWAUKEE -- For years, the knock on the Milwaukee Brewers organization was that it was incapable of producing its own starting pitchers.

The Brewers drafted and developed some serious impact performers at the everyday positions, most notably Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder. But during this same period, the only established front-line starting pitcher on the Milwaukee roster who was a product of the Brewers system was Yovani Gallardo.

When the Brewers made postseason runs they did so utilizing starting pitching that was essentially rented. CC Sabathia filled that role in 2008 when the Brewers reached the postseason for the first time in 26 years. Zack Greinke was another short-term but necessary acquisition when the Brewers won the NL Central and advanced to the NL Championship Series in 2011.

But now in 2014 the outlook for homegrown hurlers in Milwaukee has taken an extremely positive turn. These things can't happen overnight, but you can see how the Brewers may be in the process of going all the way from one front-line homegrown starter to three.

Wily Peralta, 25, in his second season in the Milwaukee rotation, is 13-6 with a 3.52 earned run average. Overcoming the command problems that limited his effectiveness early in the 2013 season, Peralta is no fluke. He throws a mid-90s sinking fastball. There aren't many of those.

The potential third starting pitcher in this category was on display at Miller Park Tuesday night. The Brewers celebrated an even four straight months in first place with a 4-3 victory over the San Francisco Giants.

Carlos Gomez spanned the gamut of run-producing possibilities, hitting a two-run homer and bringing in another run with a bunt single. Gerardo Parra hit his first home run as a Brewer to provide the winning margin.

But the starting and winning pitcher was Jimmy Nelson, 25, the Brewers' second-round selection in the 2010 Draft.

Nelson had been called up to replace Marco Estrada in the Brewers' rotation and you could understand both ends of the move. Estrada was leading both leagues in home runs given up and Nelson was 10-2 with a 1.46 ERA at Triple-A Nashville.

Nelson's potential is obvious. He has a mid-90s fastball with good movement. And he was outstanding for six of seven innings Tuesday night.

After shutting out the Giants over the first five innings, he ran into a three-batter slump to start the sixth. Joe Panik singled, Brandon Belt doubled and Pablo Sandoval hit a home run. A 3-0 lead became a 3-3 tie.

But Nelson gathered himself and retired the next three hitters on groundouts and followed that with a scoreless seventh. He recorded a quality start, but apart from those first three batters in the sixth, this was a terrific start.

"He threw really well. It was just that one inning, tried to throw it down and away and yanked it back in to Sandoval," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "You always want to see a guy that goes out there and gets outs after a tough inning.

"This is a very confident guy. I still think there is some getting used to the big leagues, getting used to a lot better hitters that you can't just blow away. And the more he's out there, the more confident he'll get. And when I say that, he's confident, anyway. But it's still going to help in his pitch selection, when he can go after people, when he can pitch around them. And all that comes with a lot of games, a lot of experience."

With Tuesday's win, Nelson is 2-2 with a 4.20 ERA. His first start since moving into the Milwaukee rotation was a rough one. Since then, he has made progress from start to start, with three straight quality starts. Here, he needed only 88 pitches to get through seven innings, walking one and striking out five.

"It was good," Nelson said. "My delivery was much more consistent, I didn't have as many misfires out of the zone, there were a lot more quality pitches and I got ahead of a lot more hitters. That's why, even with the three-run homer, I was still able to throw seven innings. And there were great plays behind me. That's what helped keep my pitch count down.

"That's one of the positives. These last three starts have been steadily improving, each one."

Catcher Jonathan Lucroy gave a realistic assessment of Nelson's development, including the clear potential along with the work that needs to be done.

"I think his control is not there yet, but he has a lot of potential because he has a good arm and he has good movement," Lucroy said. "I think if we can develop his control a little more, which obviously takes time, he's going to turn out to be really, really good.

"I mean, having him and Wily up there, guys with mid-90s fastballs that run and move everywhere, that's pretty good. If we can get him to develop his control a little more, he's going to be really good for us."

So Jimmy Nelson, potential and all, remains some distance from being a finished product. But Tuesday night, you could see the potential for the Milwaukee organization to have one more homegrown starting pitcher making a Major League impact.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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