The date was June 3. The stage was set. The challenger was Jimmy Nelson. And so was the victor.
In his penultimate Class A Advanced start -- on a Sunday afternoon opposing Bradenton in Brevard County -- the 23-year-old right-hander pitched seven innings of two-run ball and struck out five batters. And though Nelson, the Brewers' second-round draftee in 2010, didn't officially get the win, he did get the recognition.
"Nobody talked about Jimmy Nelson after his first summer. Now all of sudden, people who were in town watched him out-duel Gerrit Cole -- now everyone wants to talk about him," one veteran National League scout said of the mano-a-mano matchup between Milwaukee's seventh-ranked and baseball's eighth-ranked prospect. "It's good to see the results and performance are showing you what the stuff is. Now it's a matter of execution with that stuff. The sky is the limit for that guy."
Those results: In 13 starts overall for the Florida State League-member Manatees, Nelson fashioned a 2.21 ERA and a 77-to-25 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The advice that helped him most?
"As soon as the ball leaves my hand," Nelson said, "I have no control of what happens after that."
And this philosophy is being put to the test. Through three starts with Double-A Huntsville -- where, following his June 13 promotion, he's growing accustomed to bigger hitters and smaller strike zones -- he has compiled a 4.73 ERA and walked 14 batters spanning 13 1/3 innings. This before a fatigued throwing shoulder landed him on the Stars' seven-day disabled list on July 1.
In the meantime MiLB.com asked Nelson to describe and grade each of the three pitches he employs. (His grade is based on a scout's traditional 20-80 scale, 50 being the Major League average.) Here is Nelson, in his own words.
Pitch one: Four-seam fastball
: A contact pitch or a strikeout pitch.
Grip: Normal four-seam grip. I keep my fingers together on all my pitches except my changeup. That helps me get through the ball better and puts more action on it. Sometimes, the four-seam will cut a little bit.
Speed: Sitting low to mid 90s.
Scouts' Speed: At times he's sitting at 94 miles an hour and topping out at 96, 97 with hard run and bore in on righties' hands.
Grade: I'll say above-average. 60-65
Pitch two: Two-seam fastball
: It's something I've been throwing since I was 13, 14 years old. It had more tail than anything and then when I got older and bigger and a stronger, I started to get through it better; it started to get more rotation on it and sink a lot more. I never really could control it, so I put it in my back-pocket in college
and since I got to pro ball I have been throwing mostly sinkers out of all my fastballs. It's got better depth to it now and it bites down. It was a repetition thing. I had to do the same thing with my changeup, just one of those feel pitches. The more I throw it the better I'm going to throw it.
Purpose: It's a strikeout pitch, but I can also throw the sinker middle, middle-in to try to get early-count outs. The more advanced pitch I've been working on this year is, like, throwing a back-door sinker to a righty, starting it way off the plate and having it come back or to a lefty and have it come back over the inside corner.
Grip: Off-set two-seam grip. It's a little funky.
Speed: Sitting low to mid 90s.
Grade: I'll say above-average, 60-65.
Pitch three: Changeup
: I've been throwing it ever since I started pitching, but I got away from it in college with the metal bats and all. Like the sinker, I put it in the back-pocket. In pro ball, that pitch is an extremely important pitch. It's been good this year.
Purpose: It's just a pitch that keeps guys off my fastball. There are a lot of good fastball hitters in pro ball, especially in Double-A. It doesn't matter if you're throwing 85 mph or 95, guys can square balls up.
Grip: I throw my changeup off my sinker grip. I never had good success with a four-seam changeup. And since I throw more sinkers than four-seams, going off that grip gives me a better feel.
Speed: Low-to-mid 80s. Usually 10 to 12 mph off the fastball.
Grade: I've been developing it, but it's still average and, on a bad day, below average. I have more good days than bad: 45-50.
Pitch four: Slider
: I've been throwing it ever since I was 16 years old. Once I got into pro ball, the velocity went up a click. I've been working with a pitching coach in Florida, Kevin Berry, since I was 13, so he helped me with the grip.
Purpose: It's a pitch that comes out of my hand looking like a fastball. It bites down and away to a righty, so I can throw it at a hitter for a strike or throw it in the zone and let it move out of the zone and have them make bad contact.
Grip: I grip it almost the same as my sinker. I just throw it differently. When I go to throw and my arm is coming through, I turn my wrist -- turn it later than I would a curveball.
Speed: Mid 80s, and I can get it into the upper 80s if I need to for any reason.
Grade: Above-average, 60-65.