Braves rookie starter Lucas Sims has five starts under his belt, and each has presented a unique challenge. Coming off his best outing, now he has to learn how to duplicate success.
Sims tossed six scoreless innings, allowing just three hits against the Mariners last Tuesday. After pitching to a 5.71 ERA in his first three starts, the Lawrenceville native has a 1.64 ERA over his most recent two outings (11 innings).
“It’s cliché and it’s simple, but really just one pitch at a time,” Sims said. “You put all your intent and all your focus into that one pitch. That’s pretty much out of your control once you release it, there’s nothing you can do. So I just try to bear down with each pitch and you know, take my chances, go after guys.”
Sims hasn’t gotten a break in his first five starts, and he seems to always get stuck in a challenging situation.
He faced the historically excellent Dodgers, a suddenly streaking Marlins lineup anchored by baseball’s home run-leader Giancarlo Stanton, the Cardinals in the midst of their best run of the season, a trip to the pitchers’ nightmare that is Coors Field, and opposing a Seattle team that had won five of seven.
In that time, he’s received 2.2 runs per game in support, second-worst among seven Braves pitchers who’ve started at least five games this season (Sean Newcomb, 1.9).
In Triple-A Gwinnett, righties hit .176 against Sims. That changed when he reached the majors – righties hit .341 with a .614 slugging percentage against him in his first three starts. Sims regained his minor league success in his last two outings, holding right-handers to a .158 average.
Sims gets better as the game goes on. Batters hit .303 against him the first two times through the lineup, but that number drops to .219 the third time through. Sims hasn’t allowed a hit in 11 at-bats with runners in scoring position and two outs.
“I just want to go out there and take the ball, go as deep as I can and put up as many zeros as I can,” Sims said. “Try to put us in a good position to win the ballgame.”
Next, Sims heads to another hitter’s park in Philadelphia, where he’ll oppose rookie phenomenon Rhys Hoskins and a Phillies team that’s beaten the Braves in 11 of 13 tries. Hoskins has a record 11 homers in his first 18 games, and his play on both sides helped the Phillies win their recent series over the defending champion Cubs.
It will be Sims’ second-straight road start in a hitter-friendly park. SunTrust Park may be considered hitter-biased itself: Sims’ last home start was just the fourth time a Braves starter ended his day without allowing a run.
“I don’t think the pressure changes,” Sims said. “I’m trying to go out there and get soft contact and quick outs and go deep into ball games, throw up zeros. So the ballpark doesn’t really play too much into effect. These are big league hitters that if they get ahold of it it’s going to go for the most part anyways. So I just try to avoid the barrels, get soft contact, ground balls and quick outs.
“Try to keep the ball on the ground, really. That’s kind of a priority at that kind of place. Just keep the ball on the ground and let the guys make plays for you.”
Braves manager Brian Snitker, who’s known Sims since his days at Brookwood High School, constantly praises the 23-year-old’s competitiveness. Sims has a knack for putting himself into trouble then battling through it, just as he did in Gwinnett.
Take his second career start, for instance. Sims gave up four runs and two homers to the Marlins in the first frame. He settled in to throw another five innings, all scoreless.
“I made the realization I had two options: I can either roll over and it can get ugly, or I can go out there and make the most of it and try to keep us in it,” Sims said after the game. “Chose the latter. The first one’s not really an option.”
Sims’ new task: complete three consecutive quality starts. He’ll get a shot at it on Monday night.
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