Sleep, cherry juice, and fastball command, the keys for this promising Yankees’ pitcher

Andres Chavez
New York Yankees, Nick Nelson

The New York Yankees were able to assemble a pretty strong bullpen even though they lost Adam Ottavino and Tommy Kahnle. There were no trades to reinforce the reliever corps, but they signed Darren O’Day and Justin Wilson to a strong core that included Chad Green, Zack Britton, Aroldis Chapman, Luis Cessa, Jonathan Loaisiga, and several promising youngsters.

Nick Nelson, who had a 4.79 ERA for the Yankees last season, is one of those youngsters, and it appears he is primed for a huge step forward this season. During Grapefruit League play, Nelson has a 1.04 ERA in 8.2 innings, with nine whiffs.

The most important takeaway from Nelson’s spring training stat line is the number of walks: 1. For years, the fireballer struggled with control and command, but he looks much better in 2021 and has a huge opportunity ahead of him, as the Britton and Wilson injuries appeared to open up a spot for him if he hadn’t earned it already.

The Yankees need Nelson to step up

For Nelson, the main focus after the 2020 experience was recovering from a pitching outing. He focused on experimenting on that front during the offseason, and prepared for more games and less innings: a bullpen role.

“I’ve been pretty heavy on the cherry juice; I know that’s good for recovery,” Nelson told MLB.com. “I get extra sleep. Sleep was the main thing — during the season, it’s a little harder to get extra sleep, because you have later games and then you’re still hyped up from the games that you just pitched. Last year, the day after I pitched, I felt like I got hit by a dump truck. This year, everything has been smooth sailing.”

On the on-field stuff, the Yankees’ young right-hander knows that fastball command is what will bring his results. The velocity, a mid-to-high 90s heater, is already part of his repertoire.

“I feel pretty good about the way I’ve thrown this Spring Training,” Nelson said. “I feel like my pitches are working. I worked hard this offseason to try to get that fastball command better than the previous year. I’m pretty satisfied with the way I’ve been throwing it.”