CHICAGO -- Whatever optimism Brewers officials were feeling Friday night about right-hander Jimmy Nelson's injury scare was wiped away by a devastating MRI exam Saturday morning. It revealed Nelson has a partially torn labrum and a strained rotator cuff in his right shoulder, season-ending ailments.
The Brewers will have to finish their pennant push without their best starting pitcher, while Nelson and team doctors consider treatment options. Surgery is one of those options, general manager David Stearns said.
"This is tough," Nelson said after the Brewers' 15-2 win over the Cubs at Wrigley Field. "A lot of people see this as a game, as a hobby, but this is our life. This is how we put food on the table for our family. It's definitely tough, but I know I'm going to do all I can do physically and mentally to get back. Not just to where I was, but better."
Nelson was injured diving headfirst back to first base on a fifth-inning single in Friday's 2-0 win over the Cubs. He remained in the game to hold the Cubs scoreless in the bottom of the frame, but reported feeling "weird," so he was removed as a precaution.
Brewers head physician William Raasch happened to be in Chicago for the big weekend showdown with the National League Central-leading Cubs, so he reviewed Nelson's MRI on Saturday morning. The severity of the diagnosis surprised Nelson and club officials.
"I think Jimmy is a pretty tough guy, and maybe didn't feel the level of pain or discomfort that a lot of people would feel while going through an injury like this," Stearns said. "He also had a lot of adrenaline going last night, and that might have masked some of the discomfort that he felt. But clearly, when we got the news this morning, we were all disappointed."
"I feel terrible for Jimmy," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "He worked so hard to get himself into this spot, and when it gets taken from you on something that's bad luck, frankly, it's tough to swallow."
In a breakthrough season at age 28, Nelson went 12-6 with a 3.49 ERA. He finished one K shy of the 10th 200-strikeout season in Brewers history.
"I knew when he dove back into the bag something appeared to be wrong, but I thought he was just messing around," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "That's a tough break for them. He's pretty much at the top of his game right now. They're definitely going to miss him."
The Brewers have yet to decide who will take Nelson's next scheduled start on Wednesday at home against the Pirates. That is the immediate concern for a team that sits three games out of first place in the division and moved within 2 1/2 games of the second NL Wild Card spot, pending Colorado's result later Saturday.
Long term, there are other concerns. Labrum injuries are serious matters, sometimes requiring up to a year of rehabilitation for a full tear. Nelson, however, has a partial tear.
The righty is likely to exercise his right to a second medical option this week before he and the Brewers decide on a course of action.
If surgery is required, Nelson said, "The position where [Raasch] said he saw the partial tear, the surgery procedure is a lot more successful than just a regular labrum procedure. He said that this certain procedure has a 90-plus-percent success rate. That's definitely good news."
"For Jimmy, the hard work is the fun of this job," Counsell said. "He's really found a way to enjoy the work part of the job, which is a real credit to him and something pretty special. It's what has put him in this place he's in right now, and the season that he's had. It's what makes him special. That's what's different about Jimmy -- the work and the routine is what he loves. There's going to be a different routine created for him now."
Nelson is the third Brewers starter to suffer a serious injury while he wasn't pitching. Three innings into the season, Opening Day starter Junior Guerra strained his right calf breaking out of the batter's box on a bunt. On June 28, Chase Anderson strained his left oblique swinging the bat. Now, Nelson on the basepaths.
Does it make the Brewers miss their American League roots?
"I think present emotions, we would all say, 'Yeah, [the designated hitter] sounds great," Stearns said. "But look, these are freak injuries. These are in the moment, guys competing. Usually, all of these types of injuries are guys competing -- whether it's diving back into a base, breaking hard out of the box on a bunt or for a ground ball. This happens in sports. We're not the first team and we won't be the last."
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.