Lucas Sims, a product of Brookwood High School in the Atlanta suburb of Snellville, Georgia, will never forget the day he heard from his hometown team.
"To this point, it's still the greatest day of my career," Sims said. "When I got that phone call telling me I was drafted -- and having it be the team just down the road -- made it a little more special. When I put a uniform that says 'Braves' on it every day, that's special. When I was in the back yard playing games, I always was a Braves player."
Now the 23-year-old is on the verge of seeing that dream come true. The 6-foot-2,220-pound right-hander is a member of the Gwinnett rotation, meaning he's one step away from the Majors.
The Braves' top pick in the 2012 Draft has taken a big step forward this season. Sims allowed three hits and a walk over seven scoreless innings to beat Indianapolis on Saturday, improving to 7-4 with a 3.75 ERA. Opponents are batting .225 against him, the fourth-best mark among IL starters.
What's more, the No. 18 prospect in the Braves system is averaging 9.75 strikeouts per nine innings, which ranks third among league starters, and his ratio of 10.52 baserunners per nine innings puts him fourth.
But Sims said his focus is not on numbers.
"I just wanted to be strong and healthy as I worked to get better every day," he said. "A lot of those things are out of my control, but you can't get better if you're not on the field putting your work in to get better every day."
Gwinnett manager Damon Berryhill likes what he's seen from Sims this season.
"From Day 1, every start he's gone out and gotten better," Berryhill said. "His issue early in the season was elevated fastballs, and now he's a lot more consistent staying down in the zone while working in and out. … Now he pitches up in the zone a little bit, but that's to elevate the eyes of the hitter when he works down in the zone. Now he gets a lot of 'chase' swings out of it."
One area in which the young right-hander has shown marked improvement has been in limiting walks. Last season, he issued 92 over 141 innings, including a whopping 37 in 50 innings for Gwinnett.
This season with the G-Braves, Sims has walked 33 in 110 1/3 innings, lowering last year's rate of 6.7 walks per nine innings to 2.7.
"A lot of my work has been preparation between the ears," Sims said. "I go out there every time, confident I can do my job and do it well. I just try to make sure I do something to get better every day, and that gives me confidence every time that I take the mound."
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Sims said his advice for other players hoping to play for their "hometown" teams is simple.
"I like to distinguish the game on the field with the distractions off the field," he said. "You need to keep the distractions off the field so you can do your work and get better."
And Berryhill said Sims, who turned 23 in May, is doing a better job of that all the time.
"He enjoys Gwinnett, but he wants to be in Atlanta," the former big league catcher said. "He's got one thing on his mind: to improve enough to give himself a chance to pitch up there."
Dynamic duo: Steven Brault and Clay Holmes have given Indianapolis a solid one-two punch in the rotation. Brault, a left-hander, leads the IL with a 2.06 ERA and has an 8-4 record. Holmes, a righty, is 7-4 with a 3.51 ERA that ranks 10th in the league. Brault also is second with a .213 opponents' batting average and fifth with a mark of 10.60 baserunners per nine innings.
Blast from the past: Norfolk 1B-OF Pedro Alvarez ranks among the IL's top power hitters, tied for fourth with 21 homers while placing third with 67 RBIs. Alvarez, who spent six years with the Pirates, including a 36-homer season that led the National League in 2013, also is second in the league with 42 extra-base hits.
He said it: "My defense was great behind me, made a lot of great plays. [The Knights] were just ready to hit. I wasn't missing, they just made contact." --Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RHP Chance Adams to the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader on July 22. Adams allowed five hits and a walk over six innings in a game the RailRiders won, 2-1. The unusual statistic? Adams, who has 67 strikeouts in 68 1/3 innings this season, did not fan a single batter.
He said it, Part II: "The last two years have been pretty tough on me. It's out of my control. I've just got to go out there day and do everything I can to get better and get back out there as soon as possible." --Pawtucket's Blake Swihart to the Syracuse Post-Standard. Swihart has dealt with ankle surgery, finger pain and now more ankle pain that has him on the disabled list. He's also started working on making a move to third base.