Lucas Sims did about as well as the Braves could have hoped against the MLB-best Dodgers, but spotty defense and seven innings of stagnant offense resulted in a 3-2 loss in Sims’ debut Tuesday at SunTrust Park.
The 23-year-old Lawrenceville native pitched six innings, giving up three earned runs.
“I tried my best to just slow it down, stay in the moment,” Sims said. “Sounds weird but kind of just enjoy the little things: putting on your uniform for the first time, lacing your spikes, embracing the crowd walking out. A lot of little things that I just tried to soak in. At the end of the day it’s still sixty feet and six inches and I’ve been doing this for a while. I just tried to trust my stuff and go on the attack.”
In Triple-A, right-handed hitters were batting .176 against Sims, but it was righties who did most of the damage. Right-handers collected four of the six hits he allowed.
The first run came courtesy of doubles by Yasiel Puig and Chris Taylor. Dodgers rookie sensation Cody Bellinger homered off Sims in the fourth. In the fifth, Puig stole third and an airmailed throw from Tyler Flowers allowed him to score.
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“It was pretty darn good,” Braves catcher Tyler Flowers said of Sims’ start. “Great makeup out there. Fearlessness, even after the mistakes. One he left up there for Puig, quick emotion and then right back to focus. I think those are big things to see going forward. Those allow you to consistent day in and day out.”
In the fourth, Sims showed off a lightning-quick pickoff move, nabbing Joc Pederson at first.
Sims threw 92 pitches (62 strikes). He didn’t walk any batters, which was among scouts’ chief concerns as Sims navigated his way through the minors. He’d lowered his walks per nine innings to 2.8 this season, but was plagued by the long ball. Sims had surrendered 19 homers in Triple-A, though he’d tempered to just three over his last five outings.
“I was impressed,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “Thought he did a great job. He competed. From what I remember last year, he’s cleaned his delivery up. I liked the fact that he reached back for some extra and got after it. I liked everything that I saw in him tonight.”
His recent Triple-A outings earned him a promotion. Sims had a 3.31 ERA in his last six appearances, striking out 51 and walking seven in 35 1/3 innings.
The Braves’ starting pitching woes didn’t hurt his case either. After reaching .500 (45-45), the team has lost 12 of its last 15 to fall out of the playoff hunt. The rotation had a 5.59 ERA over that span prior to Sims’ start.
Jaime Garcia, arguably the team’s most reliable starter, was traded to Minnesota, further weakening the rotation but opening a spot.
Sims became the first Atlanta Braves starter to debut against the Dodgers, and first Braves arm to do so since 1952 (Gene Conley). He’s the second rookie to start for the Braves this season, joining Sean Newcomb.
“He was aggressive,” Snitker said. “I loved the way he was getting after it. And to go back out there in the sixth after the fifth inning, because kids like that expend a lot of excess energy and in his first major league start in this environment against this team, I thought he held himself together from pitch 1 and was really good.”
Sims and teammate Ozzie Albies, who started at second base, became the first pair of Braves rookies to debut in the starting lineup together since pitcher Al Santorini and catcher Walt Hriniak in 1968. Albies went hitless but scored a run.
“It was cool,” Sims said. “There was a little sense of comfort looking back there and seeing a familiar face, a guy I’ve played with for a couple years now. Happy that I get to share the day with him.”
The Braves drafted Sims in the first round of the 2012 draft out of Brookwood High School in Snellville. He was once considered the Braves’ top prospect, but performance and the team’s recent stocking of the farm pushed him down the rankings in recent seasons.
But 2017 has helped Sims rebuild his value as a prospect. And Tuesday provided flashes of hope.
“I thought he did a great job,” Flowers said. “One (pitch) ran back to Bellinger. Couple other cutter/sliders didn’t get out far enough. But other than that, did a great job executing. Obviously showed the ability to throw off-speed in fastball counts, which is big. Kind of puts you in better position, doesn’t let them guess quite as much to be on time. And it’s kind of a sneaky fastball, even though the velocity isn’t real high it definitely plays up, and having the ability to throw off-speed at different times helps that play up even more.”
Snitker has long followed Sims and expects his success to continue in the bigs.
“I’ve known the kid since he was in high school,” Snitker said before Tuesday’s game. “And he’s worked really hard and I know he’s one of those baseball rat kids that likes everything about the game. He just loves playing baseball and he’s worked hard and had a really good year. He’s put himself in a position to earn his callup.”
For Sims, it’s on to the next. His second start will come this weekend against the Marlins.
“It was special,” Sims said. “Definitely a day I’ll never forget. Wish I could’ve executed a couple pitches better. Get back at it the next day.”