Yankees: Nick Nelson is trying to pitch his way to a prominent role

Andres Chavez
New York Yankees, Nick Nelson

At first glance, you wouldn’t think that a pitcher with a 4.79 ERA and a 5.56 FIP should have a spot in the New York Yankees’ roster. However, if you look closely, a lot of Nick Nelson’s struggles in 2020 can be blamed to one game.

On August 5 against the Philadelphia Phillies, the Yankees needed some outs because they were short on arms with a blowout loss in the first game of a doubleheader. They left Nelson on the mound on mop-up duty and let him allow six runs on seven hits and a walk in 1.2 frames.

Take that outing away and he ends 2020 with a 2.37 ERA. Of course, baseball doesn’t work out that way, but there is, without a doubt, a lot of promise in the right-hander’s arm. He has four pitches and could potentially fill a variety of roles.

On Monday’s game against the Detroit Tigers, the Yankees’ farmhand threw two very good innings. He faced seven hitters and retired six of them, with a punchout.

“I learned that I can trust my pitches, that I don’t have to be too fine with them,” Nelson said to MLB.com. “That was a big thing I took away. Going into the offseason, I had an idea of what I needed to do and what I needed to work on from a pitching standpoint and a weightroom standpoint.”

Can he make the Yankees’ roster?

The Yankees, as of now, appear to have six bullpen spots saved for Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, Chad Green, Darren O’Day, Justin Wilson, and Luis Cessa. Jonathan Loaisiga should nab a spot, too, leaving one or two openings for Nelson to win.

“He’s got a high-octane fastball, but his calling card is his changeup,” Boone said. “That changeup to go along with a high-90s fastball is something we really like. It feels like he continues to grow in his polish, and he’s definitely someone we are excited about. I’m quite certain he can impact our bullpen in a short situation but also have the ability to give us innings as well.”

Nelson would like to start, although that would be hard to imagine with the Yankees’ options. He is growing fond of relieving.

“The biggest [adjustment] was not throwing that many pitches in the bullpen,” Nelson said. “It’s kind of challenging, but at the same time, I think it’s kind of cool. There’s a lot of anticipation building up as a starter — you get there at a certain time, you go through your routine and whatnot. As a reliever, once your name gets called, you don’t really have much to think about. I think it calmed my nerves being in the bullpen.”