MILWAUKEE -- How does a guy hit .354 in Spring Training and then go 0-for-21 to start the regular season? Brad Nelson would love to know the answer to that question. The one-time Brewers top prospect will have to mull that riddle somewhere else beginning Thursday. The Brewers removed him from the 40-man roster and outrighted him to Triple-A Nashville following a win over the Marlins in which Nelson didn't appear, clearing a spot for third-base prospect Mat Gamel. Gamel will arrive from Nashville in time for Thursday's series finale, and he will be used similarly to Prince Fielder when Fielder made his Major League debut in 2005. The Brewers play their first Interleague series in Minnesota on May 22-24, and Gamel could serve as the designated hitter. Until then, he probably will be limited to pinch-hit duties.
"He may get a start -- we'll see," said Brewers manager Ken Macha, who paused when asked if he felt comfortable with playing Gamel at third base. "He's had some errors down there, [eight] errors. I thought in Spring Training he wasn't really terrible out there. "The reports are that if he just has to react on the ball, he ends up making a good play. Most of his errors have been balls hit right at him and he has to think about what he's going to do with the ball." Gamel might be returned to Triple-A after Interleague Play so he can continue to get regular at-bats. "This guy is our top prospect, so I don't have any plans to have him sitting on the bench," Macha said. Nelson, meanwhile, can reject his Triple-A assignment because this is his second outright. He has three days to decide, and Nelson said he will remain in Milwaukee in the meantime. A few hours earlier, Nelson opened up about his season-long "0-for." "I've had two good Triple-A years, two good winter ball years and then a great spring," Nelson said. "Now comes the time when I need to excel, and it's not there. I didn't see it coming. "But I still feel like I can play here," he added. "I know that sounds like I'm just trying to make myself feel better, but I really believe it. What I've shown so far is nothing of my capabilities. It's not like I'm in 'shut it down and give up' mode." Nelson struck out in a pinch-hit at-bat on Tuesday night against the Marlins, leaving him 0-for-14 in the pinch and 0-for-7 when he starts. There have been close calls, most recently in Cincinnati, where Nelson hit a long fly ball off Reds closer Francisco Cordero that felt like a home run off the bat. Instead, it went for a long out. Another near-hit stands out during the Brewers' home series against the Diamondbacks earlier this month. Nelson hit an opposite-field drive that was tracked down in the gap. "I just haven't been able to get it going," Nelson said. "There have been a couple of close strike calls, too, but I'm not going to point any fingers. I understand that it's my job to get things done." Macha is baffled. Bench coach Willie Randolph suggested that hitters who use a "toe tap" as a timing mechanism, like Nelson and Fielder, can get out of whack easily and then struggle to find their timing again. "I don't think his swing is any different," Macha said before the game on Wednesday. "He was in the system and he deserves an opportunity, and I think we were hoping that he would be able to make an adjustment and be a guy we could put out in left field or right field. It hasn't happened." Nelson is one the organization's longest-tenured players, a fourth-round pick in the 2001 First-Year Player Draft who once was considered the Brewers' top prospect. He was selected two rounds after shortstop J.J. Hardy, and the two were roommates in the Minor Leagues. Hardy and other longtime teammates have tried to keep Nelson's spirits up. "This guy has worked his butt off the last couple of years, and you just have to remind him how good of a player he is," Hardy said. It helps. "I've never felt when Macha calls for me to pinch-hit that other guys are like, 'Oh man, why is he calling on this guy?'" Nelson said. "It's amazing how, when you go through struggles, you find out who's really there for you. There's always a positive to come out of a negative, and I've seen it. The whole team has been there for me. You can see why there has been some success here." Nelson keeps plugging away. He was out for early batting practice on Tuesday and hit six straight pitches into the second deck of bleachers in right field. Come game time, he happily would have settled for a broken-bat single. "I've played baseball long enough to go through struggles before," he said. "This is definitely not what I envisioned, but I'm working as hard as I can every day."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.