Has Jimmy Nelson Become a Viable, Late-Inning Relief Option for Dodgers?

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(Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY Sports)

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.

Brooksbaseball-Chart (2)

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.

9 thoughts on “Has Jimmy Nelson Become a Viable, Late-Inning Relief Option for Dodgers?

  1. If Nelson and Price can consistently do a good job in relief, that may eliminate the necessity for AF to go shopping for a major bullpen arm in July.

    Kenley, Treinen, VGon, Nelson, Price and Kelly all performing at high levels would give us a playoff bullpen that would be hard to beat. On the other hand, all of these guys have had periods when they’ve been ineffective.

    We also need to consider what would happen if Catman goes another three or four starts and continues to be unable to consistently find his command of at least two or three pitches. That might lead to Price or Nelson becoming the fifth starter by next month.

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    1. Someone in the bullpen should be stretched out to be a long reliever, to be able to throw 3 or 4 innings. With a bullpen full of 1 or 2 inning men, too many have to be used when a starter leaves early or a bullpen game is needed. I’m afraid a number of starters and relievers are going to be frazzled by the time 162 games are played.

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      1. Totally agree Waldo.
        When we have a starter who doesn’t go more than 3 or 4 innings, Doc loves to parade 5 or 6 bullpen guys and give each of them one inning. As you point out, that doesn’t bode well for September and the playoffs.
        Every team, including us, used to have a long man. We actually have two in Price and Nelson, each of whom Doc uses for an inning at a time. Seems like very poor strategy to me.

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  2. I think Nelson is a beast. He just comes in and throws strikes. But Jeff has a point. They need more innings out of Gonsolin as a starter.

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  3. I agree they need more innings out of Gonsolin as a starter. In his first start, he went two innings this one he went 3.2 and you could tell at the end he looked gassed at 80 pitches. Give him a couple more outings to get his stamina and figure out his mechanics. The umpire made some terrible calls several in Gonsolin’s favor. Catman needs to settle down and pitch. He has the talent I am sure he will continue to get deeper into innings.

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  4. Well, that lineup was disappointing. Swung at too many out of the strike zone and failed with runners on. Ump sucked. There’s a scoop. Kershaw pitched ok, but 110 pitches to complete 6 innings is way too many. giants keep wining and have a good chance for 4 in row as Gausman is pitching they play the dbacks again this afternoon.

    We’re with several replacement level players with no can’t miss prospects ready to step in and impress. We are 7-3. That’s pretty not too bad considering.

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