Having already faced off against four former Cy Young Award winners in his first eight starts of the season, Jimmy Nelson already knows a thing or two about pitching opposite of the best baseball has to offer.
That means he also understands how small the margin for error is against certain pitchers.
Give San Diego ace Tyson Ross any kind of run support and he usually wins. Such was the case at Petco Park on Tuesday, as one shaky inning from Nelson and Milwaukee’s defense were all it took for Ross to send the Brewers to a 4-1 loss.
"You see the stuff that he has and if he’s on with his command, you’re going to have a tough night," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said of Ross. "Great fastball and a great slider. Throws his slider 3-0, 3-1 — it doesn’t matter; his command is just as good with it. When you’re facing a guy that tough, you’re not going to get much."
The Padres jumped up 1-0 on a solo home run from Abraham Almonte in the bottom of the first, just his third homer of the season. Combine the pitcher-friendly nature of Petco Park with the talent of Ross and Nelson couldn’t afford to allow much more.
But he did in the third, as Ross began the inning by doubling into the right-field corner. He’d score on a single by Almonte, while a crucial error by shortstop Jean Segura on a force attempt at second base allowed the Padres the opportunity to further extend their lead.
Yasmani Grandal followed the error with a RBI single off the wall in right, while a slow groundout by Jedd Gyorko plated another run to put San Diego up 4-0.
"I felt good tonight," Nelson said. "There was a few pitches that caught too much of the plate, and they’re big-league hitters and they did what they’re supposed to. I have the ability to get out of the jam in that inning that kind of blew up on us. If I execute a few pitches there, we’re out of that jam with minimal damage. That’s the job as a starter, minimize damage. I have to do a better job of that next time."
Struggling to find consistent command, Nelson labored through five innings. Just two of the four runs he allowed were earned, as the rookie walked two and struck out a career-high seven.
"He struggled off and on with the fastball and the slider," Roenicke said of Nelson. "Made some good pitches with both of them. Made back-to-back great pitches on 3-2 fastballs down and away to right-handers. But every pitch, you didn’t know if he was going to be around the zone or not. Pitch count got up. There were a lot of 3-2 counts. But he still hung in there, still kept us in the game."
With the way Ross was pitching, one bad inning was enough to seal Milwaukee’s fate.
After scoring 10 runs on 16 hits Monday in the series opener, the Brewers were limited to just five hits by Ross and the Padres bullpen. Milwaukee scored its lone run of the night on a two-out RBI double from Scooter Gennett in the fourth, plating Jonathan Lucroy after the backstop recorded his 44th double of the season.
Ross allowed just one run on four hits and struck out six over 6 1/3 innings for his 13th-consecutive quality start, extending his own franchise record. The All-Star right-hander lowered his ERA at Petco Park to 1.91 and baffled the Brewers with his slider all night long.
"It’s that good," Roenicke said of Ross’s slider. "It’s always been that good. When he’s down in the zone you’re not going to be able to hit it, so you have to make him get it up. The trouble is, is when it’s down you think it’s a fastball and you can’t pick up the spin on it, and you swing and it ends up in the dirt."
The Brewers didn’t lose ground to the second-place Cardinals but also failed to gain a game in the division race following St. Louis’ loss to Pittsburgh on Tuesday. Milwaukee sits 1 1/2 games ahead of St. Louis and are five games in front of the third-place Pirates.