In the Rookie-level Pioneer League in 2010, the No. 8 Brewers prospect had an 11.37 ERA in his first three outings. The mark slimmed to 4.97 after three starts in the Midwest League, but was still not spectacular.
But the third season was the charm as the right-hander allowed just two hits and struck out seven hitters in seven shutout innings in Class A Advanced Brevard County's 3-0 win at home over Lakeland on Monday. Nelson improved to 2-0 with a 1.06 ERA after his first two Florida State League starts.
"I've been trusting my stuff a lot more to start the year," he said. "I'm trying to aim for the heart of the plate and picking at the corners like I used to. I throw a sinker and when you throw a fastball that moves a lot, it's tough to try to paint the corners. You've just got to let the hitters get ground balls and let the guys behind you take care of it. I'm doing a better job at that thus far.
Nelson forced groundouts from nine of the first 12 batters he faced, while 11 of his 21 total outs came in the infield. The Florida native gave his teammates as much credit for his success as his new-found command.
"With my sinker working, I was trusting my [defense] to back me up," he said. "They made me look good. They helped set the tempo of the game at the plate too. With them scoring in the first two innings, the [Lakeland] hitters were aggressive from the beginning. That played in my hand a little bit."
Following his seven-strikeout performance, Nelson has struck out at least six batters in each of his first three starts for a total of 21 punchouts, equaling his career-high strikeout total over a three-game period.
His two earned runs allowed in his first three starts also have been a personal low. Nelson seems confident he can continue his career-best stretch into the deeper depths of the 2012 schedule.
"I think it's very realistic," Nelson said. "Since the end of instructional league last fall, I was feeling pretty good. Then I feel like I hit another gear in Spring Training. Hopefully, I keep clicking a few more gears here and make this continue all year."
Brevard County designated hitter Miguel Velazquez hit his first homer of the year, a solo shot, in the second and reliever Casey Medlen earned his fourth save by pitching a perfect ninth.
MLB.com's No. 50 prospect Nick Castellanos went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts for the Detroit affiliate. Tigers' No. 12 prospect Alex Burgos (1-2) allowed three runs on three hits and a walk in five innings.