Braves pitcher Shae Simmons entered Thursday night’s game against the Marlins with a 3.00 ERA but has given up a combined five runs in his last four outings. (Reuters)
ATLANTA — After rookie right-hander Shae Simmons allowed the winning runs in the 10th inning of the Braves’ 3-1 loss to the Marlins on Monday, he said he wasn’t quite sure why his last few outings have been lackluster.
Simmons previously had few rough patches since being called up from Double-A Mississippi on May 31 but he said his fastball command has been lacking and the movement hasn’t been as good. He said perhaps his mechanics are off.
Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell doesn’t think that’s the case.
“I don’t see a difference,” McDowell said Tuesday.
Instead, McDowell attributed Simmons’ relatively poor outings to the vast difference between pitching for the Braves and pitching in the minor leagues. Though Simmons had been excellent in his first 20 outings, McDowell said that wasn’t really enough time to evaluate him and that some peaks and valleys are to be expected for relief pitchers.
Simmons, 23, flourished in his first 20 appearances: 11 hits, six walks, and two earned runs allowed in 18 2/3 innings (0.96 ERA) with 19 strikeouts.
Entering Thursday night’s game against the Marlins, Simmons had been shaky in two of his last four appearances, and Monday’s loss to the Marlins was his second loss in as many appearances. In his last four appearances Simmons has allowed four hits, three walks (one intentional), and five earned runs in 2 1/3 innings with four strikeouts.
McDowell said Simmons faces the pressure of consistently getting out big-league hitters over a long season. He noted that scouts have more information about Simmons and opposing hitters have plenty of video to study in addition to at-bats against him.
“I equate pitching out of the bullpen — especially when you are coming out of Double-A to the big leagues and there really is not the experience factor — the knowledge of pitching in a big-league bullpen, it’s a different animal,” McDowell said. “In the minor leagues you have preparation days and you have pitch days. In the major leagues you have (only) pitch days. I think more than anything it’s going out there (and performing) on a consistent basis.
“The crust of what we do as major-league relievers is one pitch, one hit, one walk and that’s the ballgame. I think it’s just the nature of the beast, the nature of the business. It’s just the way it goes throughout a major-league season.”
Even with his recent struggles, Simmons still has a 3.00 ERA with 15 hits allowed, nine walks and 22 strikeouts in 21 innings. He’s allowed no earned runs in 19 of his 24 appearances.
“You are going to have good days, and you are going to have bad days,” McDowell said. “For the back-of-the-bullpen guys, a success rate of eight out of ten times, that’s pretty good.”
McDowell said it would take more time to determine if Simmons can be an effective reliever. Working in his favor is a high-velocity fastball, good secondary pitches and a positive frame of mind, McDowell said.
In addition, Manager Fredi Gonzalez and closer Craig Kimbrel have praised Simmons for aggressively going after hitters.
“That’s one of the things that makes him so intriguing and maybe will allow him to make that jump is not being afraid, not being intimidated by the surroundings, a major-league clubhouse, the travel, the cities,” McDowell said. “He doesn’t seem to be that (scared) kid. When you have those qualities and you are able to throw strikes, which he has been able to do, and you have a plus fastball, it always helps.”