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John E. Gibson

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HARD DRIVES: Nelson maximizes 2nd chance

by John E. Gibson (May 25, 2011)

It's easy to understand Maximo Nelson's burning desire to succeed with the Chunichi Dragons.

The right-hander, known as a flame-thrower who didn't have a solid grip on his command when he signed with the club after the 2007 season, exhibited masterful control when faced with a situation last year that nearly got him booted out of the country.

Nelson was detained by authorities because he left a bullet in a piece of luggage he packed and brought to Japan when he reported to camp last year. In a country with strict gun control laws, he was detained and staring at uncertainty.

Instead of blowing up at the rigidness of the laws, the Dominican admitted to being "careless" and showed remorse while he was detained in Okinawa.

That earned him his release from custody, but before Nippon Pro Baseball stepped in to reprimand him, he had to deal with the enemy from within--his own team slapped him with a three-month suspension.

"I felt like I was being tested in my life," the 29-year-old Nelson said last week through interpreter Noboru Katsuragawa at QVC Marine Field. "I didn't want that to be the end of things.

"I got a lot of support from my family and didn't put my head down. I tried to move straight ahead."

Nelson said his jaw dropped just as far as everyone else's when the ammo was discovered in his luggage.

"I was surprised myself--I had no idea the bullet was in there," said Nelson, who added guns are part of everyday life in the Dominican Republic. "But I did my best to explain exactly how it got in the bag and that I didn't intend to bring it with me."

And instead of sulking and holding a grudge against the team, he has stood tall on the hill, going 7-4 with a 2.79 ERA in 116 innings since his return last August. In fact, he came up big in the 2010 Japan Series, allowing just one run and fanning eight in 6-2/2 relief innings against the Chiba Lotte Marines.

At 3-1 with a 2.27 ERA in a Central League-high 47-2/2 innings this season, the Dragons are glad they kept this hurler under their wings.

"We didn't want to kick him off the team," said head coach Shigekazu Mori. "So we told him to work hard on the farm for the three-month period and get ready to be a starter. If he hadn't have done that, we would have had to let him go.

"Turns out those three months have really done him some good. We were able to have him do a lot of throwing and a lot of running to get him ready for a starting role, and he also has a greater understanding of the game here now."

Because of injuries to the Dragons' top two hurlers, Nelson got the Opening Day nod by default, but his numbers have been similar to those of a top-of-the-rotation hurler.

He had to work through a major case of stage fright before the season opener, though. The 2.04-meter hurler had a bad first couple of innings against the Yokohama BayStars on April 12 and ended up with a no-decision after giving up four runs over six frames.

"Opening Day was pretty wild--he was on edge and was so pale he looked white," Mori joked about the dark-skinned Nelson. "But despite that, he pitched fairly well."

He has since put in five quality starts and the Dragons are 5-2 when he throws. Nelson said he has command of all his pitches this year--just nine walks and opponents are hitting .235 against him. His 1.01 WHIP is also proof of his development.

"We used to expect him to walk at least one guy every inning, but now he gets through a game with just one or two," said Mori, who complimented the hard-working Nelson. "He really couldn't do anything well when he started with us, but he has progressed much faster than I thought he would."

Nelson credits Mori for his growth.

"He has taught me the finer points of pitching, the importance of having good control and throwing strikes," Nelson said.

Practice makes perfect sense as to why he has improved, but a bigger reason he has developed into one of the CL's top pitchers is the confidence he gained when the Dragons didn't dump him.

It seems as though the guy named Maximo is making the maximum effort with his second shot.


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