Jimmy Nelson's first taste of the Major League stage began and ended at Citi Field.
After being selected to the All-Star Fututres Game, the Brewers' top prospect pitched a scoreless inning at the Mets' home, earning a hold. A few months, an "awesome" phone call and three relief appearances later, the University of Alabama product was back on the big stage. Sure the Brewers and Mets were both out of playoff contention that night in September, but it didn't matter -- a 24-year-old was making his first Major League start.
Just like in his previous three appearances, Nelson showed up for the Brewers, allowing just one run on one hit over five innings. That came after he compiled a 3.25 ERA and 163 strikeouts across 27 starts for Double-A Huntsville and Triple-A Nashville.
This year, the 6-foot-5 pitcher is looking to extend his stay in the Majors -- whether that be as a starter or a reliever -- beginning with Brewers camp in Maryvale, Ariz. We caught up with the 2010 second-round Draft pick on his way to Arizona to discuss his 2013 successes and the people who helped him achieve them.
MiLB.com: The Milwaukee organization has switched you a few times between starter and reliever. How has that adjustment been?
Nelson: It was good, it went well. I've said before that there are a lot of older guys in the bullpen who have really helped me with the transition, really gave me a few things here and there that helped me prepare for my outings out of the bullpen. I worked out of the bullpen a little bit in college, too, my first couple seasons. So I had a little experience doing it there, but it's big league level -- it's a whole different thing. I felt like the transition was good for me and the guys down there really helped me out a lot.
MiLB.com: Who in particular has helped you?
Nelson: It was a mixture, really. Everyone has their own routine down there and nobody really does the same stuff, so you try to just pick the brains of everybody that's been doing it for a while and try to take bits and pieces from everybody. ... The bullpen's just like a big family, really. Guys are down there and the whole team is together, so you get a lot of good stuff from a lot of good guys. That's one of the things I really enjoy about the game.
MiLB.com: Obviously, you'll do whatever the Brewers need from you, but which do you like more, starting or relieving?
Nelson: Before this year, I would've said "starting," but really, truthfully, it's even to me. When I was in the bullpen in the big leagues, I realized how much fun it actually was. The bullpen is actually really fun because you legitimately have a chance to get in there every day. You get to face multiple teams or you get to face the same team multiple times in a series. As a starter, you know when you're going to throw, so it's a little different. But once you get that call [as a reliever] and they call your name, the adrenaline really gets pumping, so it's really fun. They are both very rewarding in different ways and they're both challenging in different ways.
MiLB.com: What is your mentality like when you're on the mound?
Nelson: I like to classify myself as a competitor, really. I'm just trying to attack guys, not trying to nibble on corners or anything, and let our defense work behind me. They did a great job when I was [with Milwaukee] in September, and throughout the Minor Leagues there has been a lot of guys who have picked me up behind me and made me look a lot better than the pitch I made. There's been plenty of times when I've been hit hard and the guys behind me have made some incredible plays.
MiLB.com: Who has been the biggest help to you throughout your time in professional baseball?
Nelson: It's kind of like I was saying about the bullpen guys, I think you just learn from everybody. I've explained it before, as far as all the coaches throughout the Minor League system and all the staff and everybody that helps you, all the coaches and everybody gives you a lot of information. It's like you're building a puzzle and they're giving you the pieces to the puzzle and you just kind of have to figure out where those pieces go.
MiLB.com: With Spring Training on the horizon, what have you been doing to prepare?
Nelson: Just getting myself physically ready with all of our workouts and all of our throwing. We've been doing bullpens and pretty much everything, so I feel pretty ready going into it. No [new pitches], just been pretty much refining the ones that I have: the two fastballs, changeup and slider.
MiLB.com: What personal goals do you have for this season?
Nelson: Just to improve off last year. I got to pitch at three different levels last year, and it was a blessing to get a September callup, get my feet wet up there and see their expectations and the everyday preparation. Just build off that and be better this year.
MiLB.com: What was it like to be selected for the All-Star Futures Game?
Nelson: That was awesome. I got to meet a lot of good guys, a lot of good players from other organizations that you go through the system playing against, and you get to know those guys a little bit, see what they're all about. So it was very fun and it was done very well -- it was carried out in a fun way and it was a great experience.
MiLB.com: How did it feel when you got the call that you were being promoted to the Majors?
Nelson: It was awesome. I mean, it's something that anybody in the Minor Leagues will tell you. It's so cliché, but it really is a dream. But it's also a stepping stone, it's just one of the many goals that you have. One of your goals is to get there, but another is to stay there, and that just takes a whole 'nother level of performance and preparation. So I achieved that first goal of getting there and now I'm doing what I can to try to get there again and stay there.
MiLB.com: What was your Major League debut like?
Nelson: It was exciting, it was at Wrigley. There's a lot of history in that place and I came in out of the bullpen. I feel like I did a pretty good job of getting the jitters out in the bullpen. It wasn't exactly the prettiest warmups, but I tried to get them out of my system then. But when I went out on the field, I just decided to treat it like any other game.
MiLB.com: You pitched for Alabama in the SEC. Tell me about the high level of competition you saw and how that experience prepared you for professional baseball.
Nelson: Every weekend, you're playing a team where there's three or four guys in every lineup who's going to be a top five-, six-, seven-round pick, so you got to be on top of your game. There's not many holes in the lineup collegiately -- especially with metal bats, that doesn't help. So it was definitely nice to get to pro ball and get to pitch against wood bats. But it helped to face high-level hitters before you even got into pro ball.
MiLB.com: Since it is February, and I'm sure all the female fans would like to know, who is your Valentine this year?
Nelson: It's going to be my mom because right now I'm just focused on baseball. You have to respect your parents and recognize them. They do so much for us, growing up. A lot of us were big pains with our baseball traveling and all the teams you play on growing up and all the sacrifices they make growing up, [and] we really appreciate it.
MiLB.com: Will she get to come to any of your Spring Training games?
Nelson: I hope so. It's tough -- I have two little brothers who are playing baseball right now, too, so they're pretty busy back home, and it's a long travel all the way from Florida. Usually, they try to see me during the season when I'm playing a little closer to home.
MiLB.com: Your brothers must look up to you. What kind of example do you try to set for them as a professional baseball player?
Nelson: I help them with baseball and pitching and all that since they were really young, but the things that I try to stress for them is, just keep working really hard, just work ethic and just let the bad things roll off your shoulders. Don't let something bad get in your head and affect you. It's hard when you're young, but I'm just trying to teach them short-term memory; the sooner you learn that, the better.