Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Lucas Sims throws a pitch during the second inning of a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Monday, Aug. 28, 2017, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Sims surprised by move from Braves’ crowded rotation to bullpen

He struggled with command in his past couple of starts, but Lucas Sims said he had no inkling that he was going to be moved from the Braves’ rotation to the bullpen. 

Sims learned this week that, for the time being, left-handed prospect Luiz Gohara would stay in a six-man rotation that included three rookies and Sims would be used out of the bullpen.

“I didn’t see it coming,” said Sims, a 2012 first-round draft pick out of Brookwood High School, who was 2-5 with a 5.97 ERA in seven starts since he was called up for his major league debut Aug. 1. “But it’s the decision they wanted to make, they wanted to give some guys looks. I’m going to do my best to go out there and throw up zeroes and get outs.”

Story: Gohara to stay in six-man rotation

The right-hander was 2-3 with a respectable 4.13 ERA in his first five starts, with a .278 opponents’ average, .822 opponents’ OPS and 15 strikeouts with eight walks in 28 1/3 innings. Sims pitched at least five innings in each of those games, went six innings in three of the five and had two quality starts. That included six scoreless innings of three-hit ball in his best outing Aug. 22 against the Mariners, when he won his second consecutive start.

But his past two starts, losses at Philadelphia and Chicago, he had a 10.61 ERA, .333 opponents’ average, 1.071 opponents’ OPS and 11 strikeouts with five walks in 9 1/3 innings. He gave up a season-high eight hits in 6 1/3 innings against the Phillies and allowed season-highs of seven runs and four walks (plus two homers) in three innings of a 14-12 loss at Wrigley Field on Saturday.

In seven starts, Sims had 26 strikeouts, 13 walks and seven homers allowed in 37 2/3 innings.

“Obviously there were a couple of things I would’ve have liked to have done better, but it’s part of learning,” Sims said. “You learn from that and try to get better from that.”

The strikeouts-to-walks ratio was the most problematic aspect of his performance, a reminder of command issues that kept Sims in the minors longer than many expected Sims to be there. 

He made big strides in that area this season at Triple-A Gwinnett to earn his call-up, posting a 3.82 ERA in 20 games (19 starts) and totaling 132 strikeouts with 36 walks in 115 1/3 innings. In his last six starts at Gwinnett, Sims had a 3.31 ERA with 51 strikeouts and only seven walks in 35 1/3 innings.

Since Gohara figured to compete for a rotation spot next spring, some in the Braves’ front office wanted to see him get a chance to make at least two or three starts this September. Gohara will get the benefit of some experience now, like other 2018 rookie rotation candidates including Max Fried and Sean Newcomb. Gohara is the fourth Braves starting prospect to make his debut this season.

“It’s good competition, I think it pushes everyone to get better,” Sims said.

Fried made four relief appearances before moving into the rotation last week. Sims is doing the reverse, going to the bullpen after seven starts.

“Going forward next year, we don’t know where these guys might fit,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “We look at them all as starters, but it’s a situation where if we can better our team by having one of the young guys in the bullpen pitching out of there and getting experience, then that’s the way we’re going to go.

“There’s nothing set in stone. We have the latitude and the freedom to adjust as we go. It’s actually not a bad situation to be in that we have some starting options to finish out the year and can see some young guys. Lucas has seven or eight starts since he came up, and let these guys get a few starts also.”

Sims made 10 relief appearances for Single-A Rome in 2013 in his first full professional season, but had pitched only twice in relief since then, once in each of the past two seasons.

He said that no one has told him exactly what he needed to focus on for the rest of the season, but added that didn’t need to be told.

“I know what I need to work on,” he said. “I understand what I need to work on. Get more outs, throw up more zeroes, I guess.”

Suggested video:

The rookie from Brookwood High pitched five strong innings and worked out of some tight spots in a 10-4 win Thursday at Coors Field in his fourth Braves start. (Video by David O'Brien)

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