When it eventually comes time for the management crew and coaching staff of the Dodgers to select the team’s roster for Opening Day, they may be dealing with a few difficult decisions.
In Tuesday’s column, besides discussing the current mindset of lefty starter Clayton Kershaw, we stated that up to nine different pitchers might be considered for the Los Angeles starting rotation, which will presumably create an overflow of arms that could be relegated to the bullpen.
The right arm of 30-year-old Jimmy Nelson might be one of them.
Recently, front-office boss Andrew Friedman went on record saying that Nelson may conceivably be a Brandon Morrow-type of reliever, drawing a few chuckles from the fan base in the process.
Nevertheless, it isn’t as funny as it sounds, as both players have had several similarities over the course of their respective pedigrees.
Morrow missed 18 months with a shredded shoulder before the Dodgers took a chance on him prior to the beginning of the 2017 season, nursing him back to life as a reliever. Before his injury, Morrow registered five consecutive years with 10 or more starts from 2009-2013 with both the Mariners and Blue Jays. He was a double-digit winner in three consecutive seasons as a starter for Toronto from 2010-12. Of his 334 career appearances, 113 were starts.
Similarly, Nelson missed the entire 2018 season after having surgery for a partially torn labrum in his right shoulder. He dealt with significant elbow issues last year, pitching in just 22 innings over 10 games, three of which were starts. The three starts came in June and the seven appearances in relief came in September. Lifetime, Nelson has made 119 appearances with 107 starts—almost the same number of starts as Morrow before he was converted to a reliever.
Morrow has the ability to throw from a vast selection of pitches, always being known to tinker with different styles and release points. His fastball sits at 94-96 MPH, while occasionally topping out at 98 MPH on the gun.
Nelson also has a decent mix in his own repertoire—a four-seam, a sinker, a slider and a curve. Occasionally, he mixes in a variation of a change. Before his shoulder surgery in 2018, his heater mostly sat in the 94-95 MPH range. However, since his return, he has lost a few ticks, as he has lived right around 92-93 MPH. Those velocities could theoretically increase if he’s limited to much shorter outings in the bullpen.
The similarities between the two are certainly there.
Regardless, all the comparisons and projections in the world won’t help Nelson if he’s unable to stay healthy. That might be the primary reason the Dodgers boosted his contract with incentives.
As far as Nelson’s contract goes, he will earn a base salary of $1.25 million this year with a chance to increase that payout to $3 million, mainly based on the number of days on the team’s active roster—not starts. He also has a mutual option for next year. If he finds a way to remain a Dodger through the 2021 season, there’s a possibility he can bring home more than $13 million across those two years.
Indeed, the opportunity is there for him to resurrect his career.
Nelson has no minor league options remaining on his contract, so as long as he’s healthy and still part of the team, he’ll be among those included on the Opening Day roster.