Brayden Nelson didn’t have much to say, but he knows what he has to do.
Piedmont’s top reliever a season ago, Nelson is penciled in to join the Wildcats district rotation alongside fellow senior Trevin Michael next season. It’s a big adjustment for Nelson, who made just three starts last season.
Nelson’s taken the summer to get used to starting games and extending himself five, six or seven innings rather than just two or three. These days, it’s a marathon not a sprint for him.
“I’m trying to work on not overdoing myself in the first few innings,” Nelson said. “I want to be more consistent later in games. I’ve got to lay off the pop and stuff like that.”
He acknowledged the challenge of transitioning from pitching in relief most of his career to likely becoming almost exclusively a starter as a senior is tough mentally as well, but he’s up for the challenge.
“It’ll be different, but it’ll be fun,” he said. “I think I’m ready for it.”
In five starts in the Red Dirt summer league this May and June, Nelson has logged 27 2/3 innings after pitching just 34 all of last season. He’s embraced the opportunity, striking out 33 batters in five starts while walking only nine and allowing 18 hits.
“I just want to work hard and set an example for the younger kids and show them how things are done around here,” he said.
Used in tough spots last season out of the pen, Nelson grew into PHS head coach Kory Williams’ most reliable and trusted option. He tied for the team lead in appearances with 15 with an ERA of 2.47. So far, Nelson has picked up where he left off this spring, said Williams.
“When Brayden is on the mound our kids’ demeanor is different,” Williams said, noting that he noticed it on the Wildcats summer trip to a tournament in Omaha, Neb. “They know he’s going to throw strikes and keep up in ball games, so our kids are confident when he’s out there.”
Nelson’s fastball is adequate now and he hopes to add 2-3 more MPH of velocity before next season to go along with a good slider and a changeup. Most importantly, Nelson understands when to throw each pitch and can throw all three for strikes, ahead or behind in the count.
“He’s learned how to pitch. We’re not calling pitches for him this summer,” Williams said. “We’ve let him take the reins and he’s doing a great job.
“He’ll continue to get better. He’s improved a lot already this summer.”
Nelson is part of a strong nucleus of players that return after a subpar season in 2015, that saw Piedmont miss a regional final for the first time in five years. With Nelson likely playing a big part, the ‘Cats hope to change their fortune next season.
“We feel really confident we can get to state,” he said. “We have the tools, we just have to execute and do our jobs.”
Luckily for Piedmont, Nelson knows his.