The 72nd Greatest Royal of All-Time was Roger Nelson
As the first pick in the 1969 Expansion Draft, Nelson's name will live on with the likes of Ruppert Jones, David Nied and Tony Saunders
Roger Nelson was a tall, bespectacled right handed pitcher with great talent, that was rarely able to stay healthy enough to realize his potential. He signed out of high school from Altadena, California with the Chicago White Sox in 1963. Nelson was impressive in the minor leagues, once striking out twenty-two hitters in fourteen innings all in one game. By 1967 he was in the big leagues with a cup of coffee in Chicago. That winter, he was traded to Baltimore with third baseman Don Buford and pitcher Bruce Howard (father of David) for outfielder Russ Snyder, outfielder John Matias and future Hall of Fame shortstop Luis Aparicio. Splitting time between the rotation and the bullpen, young Roger impressed with a 2.41 ERA in 71 innings pitched including seven shutout inning of relief in an August game against Boston.
His performance was enough to get the attention of the upstart Kansas City Royals franchise, and they made him the first overall selection in the expansion draft. Nelson started the second game in Royals history, and although he gave up just three runs in five innings, he walked five hitters and was pulled after just five innings. Nelson would fare much better his next time out, giving up just one run and pitching all but one out of a complete game in a 2-1 victory. His ERA hovered around 3.00 for much of the season, but he had tough luck in the run support column. The Royals were shut out six times in his losses, with another three losses decided by one run. He finished the year with a 7-13 record, but a very strong ERA of 3.31. Despite missing time with shoulder injuries and military service, he still managed to work 193 innings and completed eight games.
With Nelson, Dick Drago, Bill Butler and Wally Bunker, the young Royals looked to have a solid rotation to be excited about for the 1970 season. Unfortunately, Nelson would go down with shoulder injuries and would throw just ten innings in 1970 as the Royals regressed and stumbled to 97 losses.
Nelson rehabbed in Omaha to start the 1971 season and was finally recalled in late June to pitch out of the pen. Nelson was not particularly effective, and posted a 5.29 ERA in 34 innings, although his control was excellent with just five walks.
Nelson had begun his Royals career as a highly touted prospect, but in 1972 he was battling for a roster spot. He made the team as a reliever with much to prove. He was brilliant out of the pen, throwing seven clutch innings of relief in a marathon game in late May against Texas. By July he was back in the rotation, and he responded with a complete game 1-0 shutout against Detroit on Independence Day.
Roger was on fire in August, throwing three complete game shutouts during the month including a no-hitter through seven innings on August against Boston that resulted in a one-hitter. He ended the season with a two-hit complete game shutout against Texas that lowered his ERA to 2.08, good for fifth in the league. He walked just thirty-one hitters in 173 innings, the best walk-innings ratio in the league. He led the league in WHIP, and his six shutouts were fourth best in the league, despite the fact he didn't join the rotation until halfway through the year. For his efforts, he was named Royals Pitcher of the Year.
Top Game Scores in Royals History
1. Dick Drago - 98
May 24, 1972 vs. Minnesota
Dick shut out the Twins for eleven innings - and lost. Drago struck out thirteen, including future Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew twice, but the Royals offense was punchless against Jim Kaat.
2. (tied) Kevin Appier - 93
September 15, 1995 vs. California
Ape allowed just three singles and a walk in a complete game shutout while striking out thirteen. This was a good Angels team too, although this was part of their epic collapse in '95.
2. (tied) Roger Nelson - 93
August 23, 1972 vs. Boston
Nellie had a no-hitter through seven, and allowed just a single to Ben Oglivie and a walk to pitcher Sonny Siebert. He struck out nine hitters, tying a career high he set just three weeks earlier.
4 (tied). Bret Saberhagen - 92
May 9, 1987 vs. Cleveland
Sabes threw a two-hit shutout against a pretty bad Indians ballclub with nine strikeouts. He had a no-hitter through six, and that player was erased on a double-play. Sabes ended the game facing just one over the minimum.
4 (tied). Jim Colborn - 92
May 14, 1977 vs. Texas
Colborn threw the third no-hitter in Royals history as he blanked the Rangers. Colborn walked just one hitter and hit one batter and faced just one batter over the minimum. He was helped by two sparkling plays in the outfield by Al Cowens and Tom Poquette.
The rest of the top ten, all tied at 91
September 2, 1977 vs. Milwaukee
Splitty shut down a pretty bad Brew Crew ballclub with a one hit shutout. He had a no-no going until Charlie Moore singled in the eighth.
June 11, 1988 vs. California
This was during Gubie's sensational 1988 season, and he thrived in this return to his native Southern California. Mark walked one and allowed just two singles while striking out nine
September 16, 1988 vs. Oakland
The A's had already wrapped up the division and rested some regulars, but they still had Dave Henderson, Jose Canseco and Dave Parker hitting in the middle of the lineup. Gubie capped off his great season with a two hit shut-out with eight strikeouts and no walks and won his eighteenth game of the year.
July 23, 1992 vs. Cleveland
The Royals had a history of failing to provide offensive support for Appier, and July 23 was evidence of that. Ape pitched ten shutout innings, allowing just two hits, but the Royals couldn't managed to scrape together any runs against guys like Rod Nichols, Derek Lilliquist, Eric Plunk and Kevin Wickander. The Royals lost 1-0 in the fourteenth inning.
July 27, 1993 vs. Texas
Again Ape had tough luck. He walked one, and gave up a solo homer to Rafael Palmeiro - and lost 1-0. The Royals had runners on base in seven different innings, but couldn't manage any runs against Kenny Rogers.
Despite the fantastic season, that winter the Royals shipped Nelson along with All-Star outfielder Richie Scheinblum to the Cincinnati Reds for former All-Star pitcher Wayne Simpson and a young, oft-injured outfielder named Hal McRae. It was a gutsy move by General Manager Cedric Tallis, but acquiring McRae would reap great benefits and lay the foundation for championship ballclubs later in the decade.
Nelson would pitch adequately in Cincinnati, but would continue to battle injuries. He last just 54 innings in 1973, and threw just 85 innings in 1974. After the season he was purchased by the team that originally drafted him - the White Sox. He was cut in spring training and did not play the rest of the 1975 season. The Royals took a flyer on Nelson in 1976, but he only managed to pitch a few meaningless innings in September.
Nelson's 2.08 ERA in 1972 still stands as the Royals single-season record. His six shutouts that season also stand as a Royals single-season record.