Southern League hitters didn't face the real Jimmy Nelson last year. Now they are not only seeing the Huntsville pitcher at full health, but a new and improved version of the imposing 6-foot-6 right-hander.
"I think it was actually a blessing in disguise," Nelson said of his shoulder woes the second half of last season. "I learned to pitch when I didn't have my best stuff, and that has helped me. I also used my changeup a lot more, and now I have another good pitch."
The Milwaukee Brewers' No. 9 prospect is 2-0 with a 1.25 ERA after four starts for the Stars and leads the Southern League with 26 strikeouts in 21 2/3 innings.
The most significant stat, though, may be Nelson's walk total of just five. After being promoted from Brevard County of the Class A Advanced Florida State League last June, Nelson walked 37 in 46 innings for Huntsville.
"I tried to compensate for my sore shoulder and had trouble repeating my delivery," the husky Nelson said. "I lost my command. Now everything is working in unison again, and I don't have trouble throwing strikes.
That's bad news for opposing hitters in 2013, who have managed just a .167 average off the second-round pick in the 2010 Draft.
Nelson, 23, admits he may have been giving Double-A hitters more credit than they deserved last year.
"I was nit-picking too much," the former University of Alabama standout said. "Now my mentality has changed. I'm using the full width of the plate and going right after hitters."
The big issue for Nelson last year, though, was the condition of his shoulder. After posting a 2.21 ERA in 13 starts for Brevard County and making the Florida State League All-Star Game, he arrived in Huntsville with shoulder fatigue.
"I wanted to keep pitching, but it was bothering me too much," Nelson said. "I knew I couldn't help the team."
Nelson was shut down for a month after three starts for Huntsville. He returned in August and finished 2-4 with a 3.91 ERA in 10 starts for the Stars.
A stint in the Arizona Fall League followed, where Nelson was 2-3 with a 4.91 ERA in seven games. By Spring Training, his shoulder felt 100 percent again and he got a big confidence boost in his only Cactus League outing.
Nelson pitched two scoreless innings for the Brewers against Cincinnati on Feb. 25, retiring Joey Votto and Shin-Soo Choo.
"A couple of great defense plays really helped me out, but it still made we feel good to know that I could get Major Leaguers out," Nelson said. "It was a great experience."
Nelson has a four-seam fastball that reaches the mid-90s and a two-seamer just a little slower with good sink. Combine that with a slider that is tough on right-handed hitters and the developing changeup, and you have a pitcher with the stuff to get hitters out at any level.
Nelson just needs to be able to repeat his herky-jerky delivery consistently and throw strikes. Now that his shoulder is healthy, that's no longer such an issue.
Puig on shelf: Chattanooga center fielder Yasiel Puig, the Los Angeles Dodgers' No. 1 prospect, went on the seven-day disabled list Saturday with a sprained left thumb. He hadn't played since Thursday, when he hit a home run. The 22-year-old Cuban slugger, who signed a $42 million contract with the Dodgers last year, is hitting .333 with three doubles, a triple, three homers and nine RBIs in 13 games for the Lookouts.
Record inning: Montgomery second baseman Robby Price drew a bases-loaded walk and hit a two-run homer in the third inning as the Biscuits scored a team-record 12 runs in the frame en route to a 16-7 victory over visiting Mobile on Friday. Montgomery had seven hits in the inning and benefited from three walks, two hit batters and a Mobile error. The biggest inning previously for the Biscuits was 10 runs, done twice.
Sunny outlook: Jacksonville, already in first place in the South Division, got even stronger with the addition of center fielder Christian Yelich and right fielder Marcel Ozuna -- the Marlins' No. 2 and No. 6 prospects, respectively. Yelich had been sidelined because of a stone bruise on his left heel and Ozuna started the season on the disabled list after breaking his left wrist. Ozuna played in four games for Jupiter in the Class A Advanced Florida State League before joining the Suns. Still out is center fielder Jake Marisnick, who has a broken left hand. He is Miami's No. 3 prospect.