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Jimmy Nelson will have season-ending elbow surgery

Dodgers RHP needs Tommy John surgery and flexor tendon repair

Los Angeles Dodgers v Washington Nationals Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Dodgers pitcher Jimmy Nelson is out for the season, needing both Tommy John surgery and a flexor tendon repair in his right arm, the latest in a string of injuries for the veteran pitcher.

Nelson has been one of the best relievers in baseball while on the mound, but has been limited to just 28 games and 29 innings this season. Among the 457 major league pitchers with at least 20 innings this season, Nelson ranks 14th in ERA (1.86), seventh in FIP (1.89), and 10th in strikeout rate (37.9 percent).

But he’s been limited by two previous stints on the injured list, missing 18 games with forearm inflammation and 14 more with a left lumbar strain. In an effort to keep Nelson fresh and effective, the Dodgers only used him on back-to-back days once, and haven’t had him pitch more than one inning since May 20.

Given the usual timetable for return from Tommy John surgery, coupled with the flexor tendon repair, it seems unlikely that Nelson would pitch in 2022, part of a brutal run of injuries for one of the most talented pitchers in baseball. During a breakout 2017 season as a starter for the Brewers — 3.49 ERA, 3.05 FIP, 199 strikeouts in 175 innings — Nelson injured his shoulder that September. That required surgery to repair a right rotator cuff strain and partial anterior labrum tear that sidelined him for 2018 as well.

Nelson returned in limited duty with Milwaukee in June 2019, but then missed another two months with elbow effusion and pitched only 22 innings that year.

He signed as a free agent with the Dodgers in 2020, dealt with back and arm issues during spring training, then had back surgery in July, wiping out his season before it started.

Nelson returned on a minor league contract with the Dodgers this year, and the 32-year-old made the club with an impressive, and healthy, spring training.

“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.”

If Nelson doesn’t pitch in 2022, that will mean he’s thrown a total of 51 major league innings over five seasons.

Nelson last pitched on July 30 in Arizona, and was placed on the 10-day injured list on Wednesday with right elbow inflammation.

The Dodgers transferred Nelson to the 60-day injured list to make room on the 40-man roster for Trea Turner, who was activated from the COVID-19 injured list for Friday’s game. Turner isn’t starting the series opener, but will start at second base on Saturday, his regular position for the remainder of the season.

To make room on the active roster for Turner, the Dodgers placed Victor González on the 10-day injured list with right knee inflammation.

After dazzling in his rookie season last year, González has struggled this season, with a 3.82 ERA and 4.40 FIP in 40 games, with 32 strikeouts and 19 walks in 33 innings, after walking only two batters in 2020. After González allowed a two-run home run to Yordan Alvarez Tuesday night, manager Dave Roberts said González was healthy.

“The consistency of the execution is something that we’re missing this year,” Roberts said of González after the game. “For a pitcher to be consistent with his delivery and the results, it’s not easy. But we’re going to continue to work through it. It just seems like when Victor does make a mistake, he pays for it. We’ve just go to continue to work and get better.”

Gonzalez’s injured list move is retroactive to Wednesday, meaning the earliest he’s eligible to return is August 14. This is the second injured list stint for González, who missed nine games plus the All-Star break with left plantar fasciitis.