The Los Angeles Dodgers are about one-third of the way through their Spring Training schedule, and those starting pitchers who were good to go from the beginning of camp are about to begin their third cycle of ramping up for the regular season.
So far, all of the starters are looking good. Clayton Kershaw allowed his first minor league home run since 2017 on Wednesday evening, but other than that, he looked pretty decent. Julio Urías was insanely sharp in his last outing when it took him only 27 pitches to set down all nine batters he faced in order. Trevor Bauer will continue to up his pitch count against the Seattle Mariners on Thursday evening.
On Monday, we discussed David Price and his road to the starting rotation. Being the amazing team player he is, he recognized with the addition of Bauer and his having sat out the last year, that he may work best out of the bullpen, even telling Manager Dave Roberts that he was okay with that. Another pitcher seemingly in that same spot is Jimmy Nelson.
Nelson joined the Dodgers last season, but did not end up pitching in the 2020 season due to lower back surgery. He is in camp on a minor league deal and non-roster invite. And he’s being jokingly called the Dodgers’ 8th starter, with good reason.
The tall right-hander is having a fantastic spring. His fastball is sitting between 94-96 mph, and his curve ball is looking very sharp. Nelson is currently being built up to be a starter, but says he’s happy to fill whatever roll is needed.
On Tuesday, Nelson started the game against the Cincinnati Reds. He used only 20 pitches to get through two scoreless innings. He felt good after his outing against the Chicago Cubs last week and continued to feel good after his start on Tuesday.
“Obviously the up-down is just another step, and I was happy with how it went,” Nelson said after his outing. “I was able to mix in some more offspeed in early counts and execute our gameplan. I’ve been feeling good. I was feeling really good coming into Spring Training with my offseason bullpens and all my work. Just continuing from that. Like I said, it’s just step by step. The body has been bouncing back well and physically I’m feeling really good.”
Despite being currently built up for a starting role, Nelson said he’s happy to pitch wherever.
“I can do anything,” he said. “I’ll do any role they want me to do. I don’t think it will be an issue physically. I just want to pitch and help us win. Whatever role that is, I’m open to anything.”
Whether Nelson breaks camp as a starter remains to be seen, but it more likely he becomes a long man out of the bullpen, and if he’s on his game, what a weapon to have.
Dennis Santana is another pitcher that is making people look twice in camp. Roberts has called Santana “one of the brighter guys in camp so far.” Santana has faced 13 batters so far this spring, allowing only one hit and one walk, while striking out five.
Santana went 1-2 in 2020 over 17 innings pitched, with a 5.29 ERA, striking out 18 and allowing no walks.
“Every time I’m healthy I can show what I can do,” Santana said on Thursday. “That’s what’s happening right now.”
Santana said that he gained 15-17 pounds during the offseason, mostly by eating rice, beans and birria tacos, and focusing on weight lifting. His main goal is to make the Opening Day roster.
With a lot of uncertainty surrounding Joe Kelly at the moment, Santana may get a spot in the Dodgers bullpen.
The Dodgers have the enviable position of too many good pitchers and not enough spots on the 26-man roster. But, as we all know, injuries and other issues will come as the season progresses, and these guys will have their fair chance to shine.