Jimmy Nelson has been one of the brightest spots of Dodgers spring training camp, and on Thursday the Dodgers added the right-hander to the 40-man roster, giving the team a swing man on a pitching staff that could have several of them to start the season.
Nelson has been terrific all spring, allowing only an unearned run in seven innings of Cactus League work, striking out nine while only walking one. Nelson pitched “two or three innings” (per Dave Roberts) in a B game on Wednesday on what was otherwise an off day for the team.
“Jimmy’s done everything he can to break [camp] with us this year,” Roberts said. “He fits a lot of roles for us: leverage, length, starter, reliever. He can do a lot of different things.”
Nelson hasn’t pitched more than three innings in an outing this spring, and figures to at least begin the season in relief, in a similar role to starters David Price and potentially Dustin May as well.
“Any role they want me to do, I don’t think it will be an issue physically,” Nelson said earlier in camp. “I just want to pitch in and help us win. Whatever role that is, I’m open to anything.”
Nelson had a breakout season as a starting pitcher with the Brewers in 2017, with a 3.49 ERA and 3.05 FIP in 29 starts, with 199 strikeouts and 27.3-percent strikeout rate in 175 innings.
But that 2017 season was cut short by a right shoulder injury, and offseason surgery to repair both a rotator cuff and labrum tear in that shoulder wiped out all of 2018 and most of 2019. Nelson pitched in only 22 innings for Milwaukee in 2019 before signing with the Dodgers as a free agent, but then his 2020 season was over before it began thanks to back surgery.
“When you’re not grinding through injuries and pain, you can actually enjoy the game,” Nelson said after his first game this spring. “It’s been a long time. I’m just trying to enjoy it every day.”
Now back on a minor league deal as a non-roster invitee, Nelson has been one of the best pitchers in camp. The right-hander, who will turn 32 in June, will earn a $1.25 million salary in the majors with incentives that can bring it to $3.75 million, per Jorge Castillo at the Los Angeles Times. The details of the $2.5 million in bonuses are courtesy of Associated Press:
Nelson can earn $1.5 million in performance bonuses for innings: $250,000 each for 90 and each additional 15 through 165. He also can earn $1 million for games: $250,000 apiece for 40, 50, 60 and 65.
To make room for Nelson on the 40-man roster, the Dodgers placed Tommy Kahnle, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery, on the 60-day injured list.
The club also optioned Sheldon Neuse, leaving 36 players in major league camp, including 19 pitchers.