Dodgers: Jimmy Nelson elbow surgery throws wrench into bullpen hopes

Adam Weinrib
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 02: Jimmy Nelson #40 of the Los Angeles Dodgers looks on during a baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on July 2, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 02: Jimmy Nelson #40 of the Los Angeles Dodgers looks on during a baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on July 2, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) /
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Dodgers fans got excited late Friday when it appeared the debut of one of the team’s newest toys was on the horizon. Trea Turner welcomed himself to Los Angeles with a piece of personal branding. He showed up on the field pregame in Dodger Blue warmups. Everything was lining up.

Unfortunately, when Turner finally was activated, the corresponding set of moves stung on multiple levels.

With a decimated bullpen (as has been the case all year), Los Angeles could ill afford to sacrifice any more names…yet took another significant hit, with sturdy lefty Victor González hitting the IL with knee inflammation to clear a path for the dynamic infielder.

Then came a double dose of bad news, a maneuver entirely unnecessary for clearing the roster spot, but far more painful: Jimmy Nelson’s elbow injury, which recently landed him on the IL, was more severe than had been communicated.

Nelson’s comeback story, coming after the better part of three years away from the game, has inspired many from the back end of the Dodgers bullpen; a 1.86 ERA and 1.88 FIP will only heighten the narrative.

Unfortunately, this year’s ending has been decidedly non-storybook, and portends doom for Nelson’s future. He’ll miss the remainder of this season after undergoing season-ending surgery to repair his right flexor tendon.

Nelson’s career is again in flux, and the August and September versions of this Dodgers bullpen remain wholly incomplete.

Dodgers lose Jimmy Nelson (elbow surgery) and lose direction in the bullpen.

Not only is this an obvious pain point for the Dodgers, who were hoping to welcome Nelson back down the stretch as a “post-deadline addition” around the time of the old August waiver trades, but it’s an especially brutal break for a resurgent Nelson, who’s fought off a lot of distinct and painful injuries.

First, Nelson’s shoulder went in Sept. 2017, when he dove back into the bag (universal DH now, please) and did extensive damage. A setback or two (or three, or four…) later, and the formerly dominant starter who had just turned a corner into a different tier was lost until 2021, when he became a resurgent back-end member of the bullpen, with the very same curveball that had always made him famous.

Without Nelson’s return, this bullpen picture looks far bleaker than it did in the days before the trade deadline, when we dreamed of a Craig Kimbrel package.

Kenley Jansen is the same beloved Dodger he’s always been. No matter your personal feelings on his postseason pedigree, he’s among the most trusted back-end arms across MLB. Beyond him, though (and there’s unpleasant playoff history there), you’re looking at the trusted Blake Treinen, the erratic Joe Kelly, and some combination of David Price, Tony Gonsolin, and…Phil Bickford?

It just doesn’t look the same without Nelson, and there’ll be no new addition to take his place.

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