A first-round pick four years earlier, Lucas Sims had to take a look in the mirror after a tough 2016 season. With an ERA above 4.00 for the third straight season, the 23-year-old knew something had to change.
"After the season, you reassess: what went well, what didn't go well, what kind of adjustments I need to make," he said. "I sat down and got real with myself."
Sims realized he needed to be more aggressive, so he brought a fresh mindset to Spring Training. Since then, he's "been on attack all year."
In his latest gem, the Braves' No. 22 prospect struck out 10 over 6 2/3 scoreless innings, working around two hits and a walk, as Triple-A Gwinnett topped Columbus, 6-2, on Sunday at Coolray Field.
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"It's come a long way, starting to feel really good about it," he said, referring to his command and control. "Just trying to be aggressive and really just go after guys, trying to make the hitters earn their way on."
After striking out Ronny Rodriguez to start the game, Sims (4-0) allowed a double to Bradley Zimmer on a 3-2 pitch. But the 23-year-old wasn't got two quick outs to strand the Indians' top prospect.
"In my view, it's a whole lot better than a walk. I figured just go ahead and challenge him, and he put a nice swing on it," Sims said. "You move on and from there, you just try to get the next guy."
Video: Sims notches 10th K for G-Braves
Sims ended up issuing a walk in the second, giving up a two-out pass to Jordan Smith, before settling down. With help from catcher David Freitas, the Georgia native retired 13 straight batters as he cruised through the sixth.
"Just tried to stay aggressive, kept the hitters off-balance, mix in, out, up, down, change speeds," he said. "I had a lot of good things working for me today. Me and Freitas were on the same page and I had some good plays behind me. It was a good team win."
After six innings, Sims' coaches asked him how he was feeling. He knew he was coming up on his pitch limit and said he tried to bear down in the seventh. The 6-foot-2 hurler worked around a leadoff single by Chris Colabello before fanning Richie Shaffer and getting Giovanny Urshela to fly out on his 107th offering.
"I'm happy with it, but there's always room to get better," he said. "It was a nice outing, but I'm going to go out there and take the ball next time and make my next start."
Sims ranks seventh in the International League with a 2.16 ERA and is tied for third with 42 strikeouts against nine walks over 41 2/3 innings in seven starts. He's held opponents to two runs or fewer in six of those starts as he works his way back into the Braves' spotlight.
Rhiner Cruz struck out the final two batters of the game for his first International League save.
Braves No. 22 prospect Rio Ruiz went 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles and an RBI, while leadoff hitter Xavier Avery collected three hits and two RBIs and fell a triple shy of the cycle.