TAMPA — On the very first day of Yankees camp, when pitchers and catchers reported, manager Aaron Boone was asked about the depth of this club's pitching staff. He called this group of arms better than any of the units he's managed during his tenure in New York.
That's some high praise, right? As he walked through some of the young pitchers that are full of potential in this clubhouse, one of the first names out of Boone's mouth was Nick Nelson.
The right-hander made his big-league debut last summer, posting a 4.79 ERA across 20.2 innings. In Boone's eyes, however, those 11 appearances last season were just the tip of the iceberg.
Nelson made his spring training debut on Monday, twirling two scoreless frames in a win against the Detroit Tigers. Considering how pitch efficient Nelson was, leaning heavily on his "high-octane fastball" and "special" changeup, Boone could barely contain his excitement after the game.
"He was able to get some key outs and some big swings and misses even when he was behind in the count," the skipper said. "He made a couple pitches when he needed to and the trust in that changeup to go along with that high 90s fastball is something we really like. I feel like he continues to grow and polish a little bit. He's definitely someone we are excited about."
The 25-year-old enters camp this year competing for a spot on the Opening Day roster. His odds of making the team increased slightly when top prospect Clarke Schmidt went down with an elbow strain recently, but he still needs to earn innings over the likes of Deivi García, Domingo Germán, Michael King and more.
Boone said Nelson's role is still up in the air for this year simply because of his versatility. The right-hander can stretch out to start while he's also more than capable of coming in hot out of the 'pen.
"With Nelly, I could see any and everything," Boone said. "I could see him continuing to develop as a starter. I'm quite certain he can impact our bullpen in a short situation but also have the ability to give us innings as well. So he's someone that we'll continue to talk a lot about and have conversations and try and do not only what's best for him, but ultimately what's best for us moving forward this year."
With Opening Day one month away, it's too early to say Nelson is guaranteed a spot. There's no doubt he's trending in that direction, though.
"He's certainly going to figure in the plans at some point," Boone said.
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