To say that Tuesday night’s 5-3 victory over the Phillies carried its own special level of intensity for the Dodgers would be an understatement.
The sellout crowd of 52,078 at Dodger Stadium was the largest to attend a sports event in the United States since the beginning of the pandemic. Mookie Betts was the hero for Los Angeles, delivering the two biggest hits that sealed the victory. And—wait for it—righty reliver Phil Bickford was huge as the eighth-inning guy on the bump, weaseling his way out of a serious traffic jam with nobody out.
With Kenley Jansen unavailable, skipper Dave Roberts was forced to wield an unorthodox plan of attack, as he used lefty Victor Gonzalez early and right-hander Blake Treinen for the save. In the opener on Monday, we saw righty swingman Jimmy Nelson handle the eighth inning after Treinen was employed to handle the beef of the Phillies’ lineup in the seventh.
To see Roberts use certain pitchers in specific situations—rather than reserve an arm for a predetermined role—is refreshing. Indeed, some pitchers are set up to handle part of the opposing lineup better than others, whether it be because of handedness, pitcher/hitter matchups, or simply a better-suited repertoire.
Regardless, considering Nelson’s contributions on Monday, many fans might be wondering if the team plans on using him in higher leverage situations moving forward.
After a relatively rocky start to the year, Nelson’s stuff is finally playing big for the Los Angeles relief crew. The 6-foot-6 Oregon native had a not-so-impressive 4.82 ERA thru nine appearances in early April, but he has settled in nicely since, having not surrendered a run in his last 10 outings.
Since returning from the injured list on June 3 due to forearm tightness, Nelson has looked especially good in his three full innings of work, allowing no runs or hits against just one walk while striking out an impressive six batters. His overall numbers for the season look solid despite the rough start. He has posted a 2.08 ERA and a 1.64 FIP. His 1.062 WHIP is the best since his rookie year for the Brewers back in 2013.
Moreover, the 94.92 average velocity on his fastball for the month of June so far has been the highest monthly average for his entire career, according to Brooks Baseball.
Nelson was originally selected by the Brewers out of the University of Alabama in the second round of the 2010 MLB draft. His best year as a big leaguer came in 2017 when he went 12-6 with a 3.49 ERA and 199 strikeouts over 29 starts and 179-1/3 innings of work.
Over the course of his seven-year, major league career, Nelson has gone 34-47 with a 4.15 ERA, a 4.02 FIP and a 1.362 WHIP. He has struck out 614 batters and allowed 252 walks in 655 innings of work. He has a career ERA+ of 100. His lifetime walk ratio sits at 3.49 BB/9. He has never posted an annual bWAR over 0.0.
Nelson has made 138 career appearances, 108 of which are starts. Now, at 32, Nelson might be on the verge of making a name for himself as a quality backend reliever.
The strange thing is that front-office boss Andrew Friedman envisioned Nelson productively contributing as a reliver well before the shortened 2020 season even began.
Should Nelson continue his current path of success, there’s no telling how effective the Los Angeles bullpen might become during the stretch run of the 2021 season. With Jansen, Treinen, Gonzalez, Joe Kelly, and David Price at the top of their respective games, there is certainly the potential for this relief crew to be the best the Dodgers have seen in recent years.