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David O'BrienDavid O'Brien

S. Simmons has quickly become a key guy in Braves pen

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 DENVER – When Shae Simmons struck out Troy Tulowitzki, the major league leader in batting average, OBP and slugging percentage, to end a perfect eighth inning Monday, it was just the 11th time that Tulo struck out in 28 games this season at Coors Field, where he was batting a ridiculous .500 before the Rockies’ 3-1 series-opening loss to the Braves.

It was yet another feather in the cap of Simmons, a hard-throwing, undersized rookie reliever who has surpassed all reasonable expectations since arriving from Double-A just over a week ago and being thrust immediately into high-pressure situations with games on the line.

Shae Simmons has only been in the big leagues for 1 1/2 weeks, but is quickly establishing himself as a go-to guy in the Braves bullpen. (AP Photo)

In six appearances the right-hander has already recorded four holds and a save, while limiting opponents to three hits and one walk with four strikeouts in 4 1/3 scoreless innings.

“Oh, yeah, he’s impressive,” lefty reliever Luis Avilan said. “He’s been really good. He’s going to be really good for us.”

What had been a shaky bridge this season between Braves starters and relievers has been a bit sturdier since the Braves added Simmons and immediately threw him into the deep end to sink or swim

“He’s a stud,” Braves third baseman Chris Johnson said. “He’s got good stuff, man. He throws hard, and the good thing about him is, he’s not afraid to go after anybody. Tulo, in my opinion, is one of the best players in baseball, and he went right after him. That was pretty cool to watch.”

Simmons announced his arrival in auspicious fashion when he was brought into a game against the Marlins on May 31, only hours after arriving in Miami, with two runners on base and two out in the eighth inning and the Braves clinging to a one-run lead after two runs had already scored in the inning.

He struck out the only batter he faced, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, to end the inning.

A day later, Simmons gave up two hits and a walk in the ninth inning but escaped without damage to record his first major league save. In four appearances since he’s given up just one hit and no walks in three innings, none of them in garbage time.

He’s already established himself as a go-to guy for the Braves in high-leverage situations, 1 ½ weeks into his major league career.

Opponents are 3-for-15 against Simmons with four strikeouts and one walk, including 1-for-10 with no walks with runners on base, and 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position.

“He’s only been with us for a week or two weeks, so you don’t know what kind of kid he is,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said after Monday’s win. “But it seems like these situations don’t rattle him. Coming to Coors Field to face two of the established premier hitters in the major leagues, and get them both out — that was probably the cleanest inning we had all night.”

  • Tulo tall tales: Monday also marked just the second time in 28 home games that Tulowitzki failed to reach base, and only the third time he went hitless. He had an 0-for-2 with two walks against the Giants on April 21, and 0-for-4’s against the Giants on May 21 and last night against the Braves. And that’s it. Hits in every other home games.

Monday’s 0-for dropped his home average by 20 points, from an jaw-dropping .500 to a jaw-dropping .480 (49-for-102). Tulowitzki has a .550 OBP and .902 slugging perecentage at Coors Field, and as we mentioned before, just 11 strikeouts.

In 33 road games, he’s hit .234 with a .346 OBP, .458 slugging percentage and 26 strikeouts.

Braves vs. Rockies: After their 3-1 win in the series opener Monday, the Braves are 15-3 with a 2.74 ERA against the Rockies since the beginning of the 2012 season. In that span the Braves have out-hit the Rockies .290-.227, out-homered them 24-15, and outscored them 110-56.

   The Rockies, after going 16-6 in their first 22 home games this season with a .350 batting average, 4.07 ERA and 38 homers, are seriously banged up now, losing players left and right to injuries, and in freefall:  1-7 with a .263 BA, 6.63 ERA and eight homers in their past eight home games (and three of those homers came in one game).

The Braves got the Rockies started on their current descent when they took two of three from them May 23-25 in Atlanta. Injuries have fueled the ongoing slide. Beginning with a loss in that  series finale, the Rockies have gone 2-12 with a 6.58 ERA and only 47 runs in their past 14 games, scoring two runs or fewer in half of those games and giving up six or more runs in nine of the 14.

 • Tonight’s matchup: Mike Minor (2-4, 3.07 ERA) faces Juan Nicasio (5-4, 4.68), a Rockies right-hander who has struggled mightily in recent starts but beat the Braves a couple of weeks ago.

Minor is 2-2 with a 1.87 ERA and .195 opponents’ average in his past five starts, all quality starts including three in which he gave up one or no runs in 6 2/3 or seven innings. The Braves scored no runs while he was in either of his past two losses.

The lefty is 1-0 with 0.66 ERA in two road starts this season.

He’s 3-1 with a 4.02 ERA in five starts against the Rockies, including 1-0 in two starts at Coors Field despite a 9.00 ERA. Minor allowed 10 hits and eight runs in five innings of a May 2012 start at Coors (no decision in a Braves win), and gave up five hits and three runs in six innings of a win in April 2013.

Nicasio is 0-2 with a 10.80 ERA and .426 opponents’ average in his past two starts, at Cleveland and at home against the Diamondbacks. He gave up nine hits and five runs in 4 2/3 innings against the Indians, and was rocked for 11 hits, seven runs and two homers in 5 1/3 innings against Arizona hitters.

He’s 3-1 with a 4.69 ERA in seven home starts, including 0-1 with an 8.74 ERA and four homers allowed in his past two.

Nicasio is 1-3 with a 7.40 ERA in five starts against the Braves, but he beat them May 24 in Atlanta while allowing just two hits and four walks in six scoreless innings.

  Left-handed batters have feasted at a .323 clip (40-for-124) against him with 17 extra-base hits, 13 walks, 13 strikeouts and a .384 OBP and .573 slugging percentage (righties .245/.284/.446), and he’s given up eight homers in 40 1/3 innings over seven home starts.

The Braves went 2-for-20 against him last month with one extra-base hit (double) and a .150 slugging percentage, his lowest opponents’ average and slugging percentage this season against any team. Six of the other nine teams he’s faced this season have hit above .300 against him.

  Freddie Freeman is 5-for-9 with three homers, seven RBIs, four walks and a .714 OBP against Nicasio. Justin Upton is 4-for-8 against him, Jason Heyward and Jordan Schafer are each 5-for-11, and Chris Johnson is 4-for-11.

Here’s a great one from one of the best and most underrated songwriters alive, Tom Russell. Saw him at Eddie’s Attic in Decatur a couple of times, and the man puts on a great show.

“TONIGHT WE RIDE” by Tom Russell

Pancho Villa crossed the border in the year of ought sixteen
The people of Columbus still hear him riding through their dreams
He killed seventeen civilians you could hear the women scream
Blackjack Pershing on a dancing horse was waiting in the wings

Tonight we ride, tonight we ride
We’ll skin ole Pancho Villa, make chaps out of his hide
Shoot his horse, Siete Leguas, and his twenty-seven bride
Tonight we ride, tonight we ride

We rode for three long years till Blackjack Pershing called it quits

Tom Russell

Tom Russell

When Jackie wasn’t lookin’ I stole his fine spade bit
It was tied upon his stallion, so I rode away on it
To the wild Chihuahuan desert, so dry you couldn’t spit

Tonight we ride, you bastards dare
We’ll kill the wild Apache for the bounty on his hair
Then we’ll ride into Durango, climb up the whorehouse stairs
Tonight we ride, Tonight we ride

When I’m too damn old to sit a horse, I’ll steal the warden’s car
Break my ass out of this prison, leave my teeth there in a jar
You don’t need no teeth for kissin’ gals or smokin’ cheap cigars
I’ll sleep with one eye open, ‘neath God’s celestial stars

Tonight we rock, tonight we roll
We’ll rob the Juarez liquor store for the Reposado Gold
And if we drink ourselves to death, ain’t that the cowboy way to go?

Tonight we ride, tonight we ride
Tonight we fly, we’re headin’ west
Toward the mountains and the ocean where the eagle makes his nest
If our bones bleach on the desert, we’ll consider we are blessed
Tonight we ride, Tonight we ride

Tonight we ride, tonight we ride.

 

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