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Lucas Sims off to nice start for Gwinnett Braves

Lucas Sims had yet another good outing Wednesday night against the Durham Bulls. Here are some takeaways from his most recent start.

It seems like Lucas Sims has been an Atlanta Braves top prospect forever. Some of his luster has been lost over the past few years. It’s partially some of his own doing with inconsistent play, but also the addition of all the new, young toys developing on the Braves farm below him.

The skinny:

Sims was drafted in the first round of the 2012 MLB Draft and by 2013 was the Braves Minor League Pitcher of the Year. He followed a down 2014 by coming out strong in 2015 before a team bus accident seemingly made him a different pitcher.

His roller-coaster career continued last season. Sims looked decent enough in Mississippi, but imploded in Gwinnett. I suppose the one takeaway was he led the Braves system in strikeouts. He still has stuff. It's just a matter of placing it.

All things considered, the struggles and the inconsistencies, Sims survived the Hart/ Coppolella purge, and that speaks volumes.

One of the bigger questions surrounding Sims the past few seasons is what his role will be in Atlanta. Some feel that he’d be better suited in the bullpen, able to maintain his sometimes erratic control in smaller doses. Right now, the Braves seem to feel he is still a starter. At the very least, it increases his trade value in the rotation should they choose to move him.

That being said, Sims has gotten off to a hot start in Gwinnett this season. Entering Wednesday’s start against the Durham Bulls, Sims was 2-0, with a 2.66 ERA, striking out 21 and walking six over 23.2 innings. His 3.48 FIP was much more appealing and half of what he posted in his 2016 Gwinnett debut.

Thoughts from Wednesday’s start:

Simply put, I walked away impressed. Sims wasn’t perfect by any means, but pitched well enough for a win that the bullpen allowed to slip away.

Sims first two innings were highly efficient. He pounded the strike zone, primarily behind his low-90s fastball. His curve, hitting consistently in the upper 70s, had some nice drop that kept hitters off balance. He used his change, which came across at 85, sparingly, but effectively.

He threw 19 pitches in the first inning, 15 of which landed for strikes. A hard-hit single up the middle by Jake Bauers was the only damage, and he really worked for that hit. The majority of Sims pitches came in that at bat.

The second inning was more strikes. Sims was really delivering on his fastball, and this inning he sat down Michael McKenry and Casey Gillaspie on back-to-back strike outs. Both came in right around 92 miles-per-hour, where he generally hit for most of the night, topping out at just 93.

At this point I noticed one of the two negatives I saw on the evening. When Sims missed, he missed badly. It seems he overthrew, or had a lapse in mechanics, or his curve simply didn’t break. This is where Sims has gotten in trouble in the past, but luckily on this night, those pitches were greatly outweighed by very well placed ones.

The third inning saw the other negative. When Sims is hit, he is hit hard. Durham Bulls second baseman Kean Wong — a thorn in Sims’ side all night — blasted a home run down the right field line, and the very next pitch Sims threw was roped to the left center gap for a single.

That inning could have gone two ways. Sims could have lost focus and collapsed, or he could regroup. It was the latter, and it wouldn’t be the first time he did it that evening.

Sims was hit hard again, as Mallex Smith drove a fastball right into right fielder Mel Rojas, Jr.’s glove. He then struck out Willy Adames and Bauers to end the inning, both frozen looking. Adames lost his bat on one swing, and fell at another, leading me to believe that Sims breaking stuff was even more tricky in the batters box.

(NOTE: I love this Durham Bulls lineup and think Adames, Bauers and Gillaspie are legit. What he was able to do against them was particularly impressive, but that's just my opinion.)

Sims labored a bit through the fourth and fifth innings. His fastball was more 90, but still got up to 93 when he needed a big pitch. His secondary stuff missed a bit more, but he still got that curve to break when he needed it. He was definitely throwing more off-speed stuff than he was early in the game.

He got in a real jam in the fifth, but again reared back at got out of it. With runners on second and third and one out, he once again struck out Bauers in a big situation. He also drilled reigning International Player of the Week square in the back on the next pitch on a fastball he just seemingly lost. Still, with bases loaded, he got the ground out to get out of the jam.

Sims' final line was good. He got through five, landing 64 of his 96 pitches for strikes. He did get hit, allowing seven, but for a pitcher with command issues, he posted zero walks to seven strikeouts. He left the game with a 2-run lead that would disappear two innings later. That lead was on Ryan Howard's first blast in a Braves uniform.

He could still be destined for the bullpen, perhaps in a long-relief/ swingman-starter role. Seeing how strong he was for three innings and how he pushed through for two showed he may be more apt for that kind of role. But he also showed that he can control his command (if that makes sense) when he needs to.

It will be interesting to see where Sims fits into the future Braves plans. Still just 22, he seems to be showing the improvements and getting back to that top prospect he once was. He’s definitely worth tracking through May to see how he holds up.