- David O'Brien The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
NEW YORK – It took Lucas Sims a little longer than anticipated to get to the majors, but the former Brookwood High School star is starting to pitch like he belongs and like he intends to be a strong contender for a spot in next year’s rotation.
Sims took a four-hit shutout into the seventh inning Monday and got plenty of late offensive support as the Braves beat the Mets, 9-2, in the first game of a doubleheader to open a four-game series at Citi Field, the next-to-last series of the season.
Rookie Ozzie Albies and catcher Tyler Flowers had home runs for the Braves, and Sims (3-5) was charged with five hits, two runs and two walks with six strikeouts in 6 2/3 innings.
“He’s pitching with a lot of confidence,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s got a real good breaking ball, he can locate his fastball. He’s pitching like he’s trying to get you out — he’s on the attack.”
Albies’ leadoff homer in the fourth inning accounted for the only run in the game through five innings, but the Braves added three runs in the sixth including a two-run double from Nick Markakis.
They got a run in the seventh on an Ender Inciarte RBI double that was his 198th hit of the season.
Reliever Dan Winkler replaced Sims with two out in the seventh and promptly gave up a two-run double to Tomas Nido. But the Braves got those runs back in the eighth on a two-run homer from Flowers, making it 29 homers from Atlanta catchers, tied with the Cubs for third most in the majors from the position.
Flowers also has a homer as a pinch-hitter, giving him and catching mate Kurt Suzuki 30 homers between them. Flowers also threw out two would-be base stealers in the game.
“(Sims) gave me a chance on both of them,” Flowers said of the runners he threw out. “That’s half the play right there, just to have an opportunity. Guys made good tags on both plays, too.”
The runs on Nido’s hit off Winkler were charged to Sims, who gave up a leadoff walk and two-out single to Juan Lagares in the seventh before being replaced after 93 pitches (58 strikes). In his 13th game and ninth start, Sims got the win and also got his first major league hit, scored a run and had a sacrifice bunt that helped get another run in.
“I would have liked to get through seven (innings),” he said. “But you learn. Maybe execute a pitch, field my position a little better. But it was a good team win overall… Wink’s an unbelievable pitcher. I know in my heart he’s going to pick me up next time. He didn’t mean to (give up a hit), and he got the next guy out and was able to limit it to that. That’s all you can ask for.”
After Sims was called up from Triple-A Gwinnett on Aug. 1 and went 2-5 with a 5.73 ERA in seven starts to begin his major league career, he was moved to the bullpen for four relief appearances – the Braves wanted to give prospect Max Fried some starts — before returning to the rotation last week.
In two starts against the Nationals and Mets in the past six days, Sims allowed just eight hits, three runs and four walks with 12 strikeouts in 11 2/3 innings.
“I feel like when he’s out there, you know he’s going to compete,” Flowers said. “He always has good stuff. He’s not afraid of anybody. I personally love it when he’s out there. We’re starting to see just the ability he has to throw any pitch, any time, any count to any hitter, without hesitation, no fear of anything. Those are things that are huge to be consistent over the course of a long season.”
Sims, a 23-year-old Lawrenceville native, retired the first six Mets and nine of 10 through three innings before walking Jose Reyes to start the fourth and allowing a single to the next batter, Brandon Nimmo. But Sims got out of trouble with an assist from Flowers, who threw out runners – Reyes in the fourth, Juan Lagares in the fifth — trying to steal second base for the second out in consecutive innings.
Each time, Sims got the third out of the inning by striking out the batter who was up at the time of the caught-stealing.
Albies’ first-pitch homer off Mets starter Chris Flexen (3-5) gave the Braves second-base dynamo 18 extra-base hits including five homers and 24 RBIs through his first 50 major league games, a .315 average in his past 34 games and three homers in his past 12 games before Monday’s nightcap.
The Braves loaded the bases with none out in the sixth on Sims’ leadoff single and consecutive walks by Inciarte and Albies. With none out and Freeman coming to bat, the Mets replaced Flexen with lefty reliever Josh Smoker, who was behind in the count 3-1 when Freeman hit a broken-bat pop fly to the shortstop in shallow center, leaving the Atlanta slugger still seeking his first career grand slam.
Not to worry, though, as Markakis followed with a two-run double down the left-field line. And after Flowers was walked intentionally, Rio Ruiz hit a deep sacrifice fly to extend the margin to four runs, the first of Ruiz’s two sacrifice flies in the game.
The Braves made it a 5-0 bulge in the seventh when Jace Peterson hit a leadoff double, advanced on Sims’ bunt and scored on Inciarte’s double, which left the center fielder just two hits from a 200-hit season, which would be the first for the Braves since Marquis Grissom’s 207-hit season in 1996.