When the time is right, Milwaukee will be waiting for Jimmy Nelson. For now, he's making the most of his continuing development on the doorstep of the big leagues.
The Brewers' top prospect allowed only two hits while fanning nine over six shutout innings, but Triple-A Nashville suffered a 2-1 walk-off loss at Iowa on Monday.
Nelson matched a season high with his nine strikeouts and limited any ill effects of three walks and a hit batsman. After plunking Josh Vitters with one out and walking Christian Villanueva behind him in the second inning, Nelson began to find his stride.
"I went out there and kind of struggled a little bit early, the right-hander said. "I had to battle those first few innings, but once I settled in, me and [catcher Lucas May] were on pretty much the same page all day. He did a good job there."
Nashville gave Nelson the lead in the top of the second on Jeremy Hermida's one-out, solo homer to center. Though the leadoff man reached against Nelson in three of his final four innings, the Cubs never capitalized against him.
Nelson froze Matt Szczur and fanned Chicago's top prospect Javier Baez with a runner on in the fifth and capped his day with a strikeout of No. 11 Cubs prospect Christian Villanueva to end the sixth.
"My fastball command to start the game set the tone for everything," Nelson said. "I used my four-seamer and my sinker, mixed those in. When I need to, [I] bust out the slider and mix in a changeup to keep them off the fastball. You can't be a starter with just two pitches. The changeup's come a long way for me, and it's helped keep guys off my fastball."
Nelson has worked at least six innings in each of his starts this year and hasn't allowed more than three earned runs in any of them. Monday was his second scoreless outing of the year.
Top Brewers prospect Jimmy Nelson has struck out 53 batters against just 16 walks this season. (Mike Strasinger/Nashville Sounds)
"The key to this game, really, is consistency," he said. "We have such a long season. You can't really be a player that's really high or really low. You have to stay even-keeled, not only with your attitude but with your progression or mechanics or whatever it may be."
With four big league appearances under his belt last season, the University of Alabama product gives the National League Central-leading Brewers a potential ace-in-waiting for an already impressive team. A possible recall to Miller Park, though, isn't weighing heavily on Nelson's mind.
"Of course you want to be in the big leagues," he said. "Everyone here does, at this level, and everybody here on our team has the talent to be there. We have a very great team. I mean we all understand the process. We all understand that we have things to work on here at Triple-A. You can't look so far ahead that something right in front of you doesn't get worked on and fixed. We're all focused on the now, and I think we're all doing a great job of that."
Through Nelson's six frames, Iowa starter Tsuyoshi Wada kept the game tight. Wada was charged with one run on six hits while striking out eight and walking three over seven innings.
Iowa rallied to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth when Lars Anderson homered off Nashville reliever Donovan Hand. An inning later, Baez played hero, bouncing a walk-off single up the middle to plate Szczur with the game-winning run.
Hand (0-2) was charged with two runs on five hits while striking out two and not issuing a walk over 1 1/3 frames.
Cubs righty Eduardo Figueroa (1-0) picked up the win with a perfect 10th.
Tyler Maun is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @TylerMaun.