Growing pains are frustrating for rookie pitchers and often for the paying fans who watch them.
That’s particularly true when they occur in the first inning on a muggy afternoon, as happened Sunday when Braves rookie Lucas Sims gave up four runs to the Marlins on a pair of homers that took the buzz out of a crowd that had turned out at SunTrust Park hoping to see the home team complete a series sweep of the Fish.
Instead they saw Marlins pitcher Jose Urena protect that early lead without much difficulty in a 4-1 win in the finale of a three-game series before 29,651, thwarting the Braves’ bid for a sweep and pushing them back to 1 ½ games behind second-place Miami in the National League East standings.
The Braves have dropped 14 of 20 games since a surge that got them to .500 at the 90-game mark.
In his second major league start, Sims (0-2) pitched well for the remainder of his six-inning outing, but the four-batter sequence in the first was his and the Braves’ undoing. He hit the second batter of the game, slugger Giancarlo Stanton, with a pitch to his backside, then walked Christian Yelich on five pitches before giving up back-to-back homers to Marcell Ozuna and J.T. Realmuto.
“Yeah, I can’t make pitches like that,” Sim said. “Kind of sets the table… Can’t be doing that.”
Sims was ahead in the count against both hittesr before the homers – Ozuna took him deep on a 77-mph curveball with a 1-2 count, and Realmuto homered on a 85-mph slider with the count 0-1. It was the 26th home run for Ozuna and 13th for Realmuto.
“Yeah, they both were just bad pitches,” Sims said. “I didn’t execute. They were bad pitches.”
Braves manager Brian Snitker said, “The biggest thing I saw in the first inning is he had a hard time putting them away. But then he regrouped. And to go six after that, that’s pretty good. That showed me a lot.”
Sims was charged with six hits, four runs and two walks with three strikeouts in six innings. Called up from Triple-A last week, the former Brookwood High School standout faced the powerful Dodgers in his debut Tuesday and gave up six hits, three runs and no walks in six innings, with one homer and one hit-by-pitch.
“They’ve gone alright,” Sims said, in a tone that made it clear he wasn’t satisfied. “I just expect more out of myself. I should be better for these guys. Learn from it and move on. Prepare for the next one.”
While Sims stumbled out of the gate Sunday, Urena (5-5) was perfect through three innings and faced just 16 batters – one over the minimum – through five innings before the Braves finally scratched him for a run in the sixth.
“(Urena) has got a live arm,” Snitker said. “He’s a good pitcher and we just couldn’t get anything going against him.”
Jace Peterson led off the Braves’ sixth with a double that made him 5-for-12 as a pinch-hitter. Ender Inciarte followed with an RBI single that cut the lead the 4-1, but Urena retired the next two batters to complete his impressive six-inning stint with a three-run lead.
The Braves’ only scoring opportunity through five innings came in the fourth after a leadoff double from Inciarte. Following a Brandon Phillips line-out, Freddie Freeman walked to put two runners on with one out. But Urena induced a double-play grounder from Nick Markakis, the National League-leading 100th double play grounded into by the Braves this season.
They led the league with 145 double plays grounded into in 2016 and are on pace to finish with 148 this season.
Urena allowed three hits and one walk in six innings and the Marlins didn’t get their fourth hit until Freeman’s two-out single in the ninth.
While the Braves couldn’t muster much offensively, they did get a couple of exceptional defensive plays from Brandon Phillips in his fourth game at third base, after the four-time former Gold Glove second baseman was displaced at his regular position last week by second-base prospect Ozzie Albies.
In third inning, Phillips dove to his his left to field Stanton’s hard-hit grouner on the line, popped up and made a strong throw to first base to get the out. He had another notable stop in the sixth inning.
“Really good plays,” said Snitker, “His reactions, his clock – he just slows the game down so good when he leaves his feet and makes those plays. He’s done really, really well since going over there…. He’s a really good third baseman. He’s got all the physical tools to be that.”