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Pirates get ready to face Brewers pitcher Nelson, hope for better results |

Pirates get ready to face Brewers pitcher Nelson, hope for better results

Alice T. Carter
| Thursday, April 16, 2015 9:42 p.m
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Brewers pitcher Jimmy Nelson throws against the Pirates in the first inning of a game at Miller Park on April 11, 2015 in Milwaukee.

Among the many books about great coaches and motivators on Pirates manager Clint Hurdle’s desk Wednesday afternoon sat a copy of “Thoughts from the Diary of a Desperate Man.”

Perhaps something in that plain-covered blue book — it’s a Christian devotional — could resonate with Hurdle’s players as they try to snap a 19-inning scoring drought Friday while squaring off with a starting pitcher that less than one week ago humbled them as much as any hurler in this young season.

Barring bad weather or a surprise change in the Milwaukee Brewers rotation, round two against right-hander Jimmy Nelson begins at 7:05 p.m. Friday at PNC Park. Nelson, in his only other start this season and just the 14th of his Major League career, used 88 pitches over seven innings to surrender just two hits and struck out nine during a 6-0 win on April 11 at Miller Park.

“What we saw in spring training was nothing like what we saw in his first outing,” said Hurdle, who noted Nelson struggled with pitch command in the past. “We saw a completely different cat. We tried to figure him out as we went along and didn’t have very much success with that.”

That shutout loss was the Pirates’ first of the season. They have been blanked twice since.

The Pirates last had three shutout losses in one week in late May through early June 2013.

And their strikeout rate (25.3 percent) and walk rate (4.4 percent) each ranked second-worst in the majors after Wednesday’s 1-0 loss.

To turn the offense around in the first game of this weekend’s series against the Brewers will require the Pirates to put together a better game plan against Nelson, a 25-year-old whose confident use of a new curveball caught Pirates batters off guard.

Time spent studying video led the Pirates to anticipate plenty of fastballs from the 6-foot-6 Nelson, who made 12 starts — none against Pittsburgh — and had an ERA of 4.93 in 2014. But Nelson broke out a pitch he began developing at the Double-A level in 2012 and thrived with the new weapon of his arsenal, which also includes a slider and changeup.

“He threw a lot of breaking balls at their place, and what was impressive was he threw a lot of breaking balls for strikes, particularly early in the count,” said second baseman Neil Walker, who went 0 for 3 with a strikeout against Nelson. “And when you’ve got a guy who’s commanding the breaking ball for strikes early in the count, you have to battle a little more than you normally would. So that’s what we have to be prepared for, to be ready for that fastball but know what he’s going to try to do with his secondary stuff.”

Twice in a four-game span, a young, largely unproven pitcher left the Pirates looking desperate at the plate. Nelson did it with a new pitch. The Detroit Tigers’ Shane Greene did it Tuesday with a well-respected cutter.

“All in all, we didn’t have a lot of cookies to hit,” Hurdle said of the offerings from the 26-year-old Greene, who allowed three hits and threw just 81 pitches in eight innings in the Tigers’ 2-0 win.

What the Pirates hope to do against Nelson and any other emboldened young arms headed their way is crack the pitcher’s confidence early.

“The older guys definitely have a plan, and I’m not saying young guys don’t, but when you pitch in this league for a long time, you know how to pitch (with adversity),” shortstop Jordy Mercer said. “If they get in trouble or need a quick out or a strikeout or whatever, (veterans) know how to do it. Young guys, I feel like they continue to go with their strengths, and they learn as they go.”

The short-notice rematch between the Pirates and Nelson should illuminate which side is a quicker study.

“I think we’ll at least be more aware and better prepared for that guy coming in,” Hurdle said, “and I know (we’re) definitely looking forward to the challenge of seeing him again. He won the first one, and they’re looking forward to throwing a punch back this time.”

Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @BWest_Trib.

Categories: Pirates
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