Simmons making a big league impact
Andrelton Simmons can't remember much about his first major league homer.
The ball he hit was an off-speed pitch that sort of hung over the plate. OK, he recalls that.
There were handshakes with the Braves' two base coaches. Yeah, that's customary.
But other than that? Nothing, leaving teammate Jason Heyward to fill in one of the blanks.
"First row. That's all you got," Heyward said from an adjacent locker in the Braves clubhouse after their 5-2 win over the Blue Jays on Saturday. "First row."
That's perfectly fine for Simmons, a defensive specialist at shortstop who has had a heavenly first seven days in the majors.
He was expected to make an impact at short, which is why the Braves promoted him from Double-A Mississippi on May 30, taking the place of Tyler Pastornicky, another rookie who struggled in the field.
And Simmons has been flawless at shortstop — handling all 36 chances, including snaring a hard-hit grounder to start a game-changing double play against Miami on Thursday. But he's surprised most of us by excelling at the plate and on the bases.
He finished his first week with a .286 average, a double, a triple, a home run and four RBI. Simmons' break for second base on Friday led to a balk which scored one of the Braves' runs in a 4-3, 10-inning win over the Blue Jays.
"He's a great, great, young talented kid. It's fun to watch him play," teammate Dan Uggla said. "He got that first homer today. It's a special thing. I still remember mine like it was yesterday. Something you never forget. You work your whole life to get to this point, and then you hit a homer. It made a difference in the ball game."
The Braves were languishing in late May before ending their eight-game losing streak on May 28. They lost Simmons' debut in Washington on June 2, but have won six straight since, including a sweep at Miami.
Simmons' presence has solidified shortstop, boosting their overall defensive ability and their pitchers' confidence level. The Braves have made two errors during their six-game streak, and none in the past four games.
Pastornicky and backup Jack Wilson had combined for eight errors before Simmons' promotion.
"It's sure fun to watch him play," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He's an athletic guy, and he doesn't waste a lot of energy playing the game. The game comes pretty easy for him as far as defensively and the running game. You know what, there are going to be times when he goes 0 for 12 or one of those things, so let's not get too carried away and give him a batting title or something like that. It sure has been fun to watch him play."
The Blue Jays had just cut the Braves' lead to 3-2 when Simmons came to the plate to lead off the seventh.
He smacked the first pitch he saw from Toronto starter Drew Hutchison into the first row in left — as Heyward reminded him.
His teammates were waiting for him after Simmons touched home and entered the dugout. They initially acted like nothing had happened before erupting into a mini flash mob and group hug, pelting him with plenty of pats on his back and head.
"It was pretty amazing. I never thought I would hit a home run here," Simmons said. "It came when I was least expecting it. When I hit that ball, it felt like I got it. And when I saw it go out, I was like, 'Really? I hit my first home run at Turner Field, the stadium I always watch on TV?' So, it was pretty cool."
Still, Simmons will win more games with his glove instead of his bat, which has already rubbed off on his teammates.
Uggla ended the victory by diving to his left to grab a sharp grounder by Kelly Johnson, the last of several stellar defensive plays by the Braves on Saturday.
"After Simmons hit that home run, he came up and said, 'Man, I'm trying to be like you,'" Uggla said. "After I made that diving play, I'm like, 'Dude, trying to be like you, homey.'"