Three Cuts: Simmons delivers, but Wheeler, Mets sink Braves
ATLANTA — Three games ending in the span of 24 hours.
With Tuesday's doubleheader and Monday's rain-delayed finish, the Braves and Mets became the first teams to log such a marathon since the Reds on Aug. 23, 1996.
"It was a little exhausting," Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons said. "Just glad it's over with."
The final two games of that set belonged to the Mets, who put the hopes for their future on display in starters Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler, who combined for 20 strikeouts and two wins.
"Those are two pretty good arms they got going over there," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "Big arms and they've got a lot of upside, they really do."
Herewith, three cuts from the Mets' 6-1 win in Game 2 of the twin bill, and here's a look back at Harvey's flirtation with a no-hitter in the opener.
1. Wheeler met the hype, but Simmons did his part
Braves legend Chipper Jones sat two rows behind home plate with Zack Wheeler's parents as the Mets' prized prospect and Smyrna, Ga., product, made his major league debut against the team he grew up rooting for.
It lived up to its billing.
Wheeler allowed four hits over six scoreless innings, striking out seven with four walks. But if there was a thorn in the right-hander's side, it was clearly Andrelton Simmons.
While Dan Uggla got to Wheeler for his third double of the year, it was Simmons, the Braves' shortstop, that had a single and two walks against Wheeler — he would add a seventh-inning base hit off reliever Brandon Lyon — and stole two bases.
"I know he was struggling with his command, so he was focused more on the hitter," Simmons said of Wheeler. "I took advantage of the opportunity."
It was an impressive day for Simmons, who had three hits with zero strikeouts in the twin bill, for two reasons:
1) He came in seeing 3.41 pitches per plate appearance (73rd in NL and fifth among Braves), but worked Wheeler for a five-pitch walk in the first inning and a sixth-pitch use on balls in the third.
2) After stealing four bases in his last 116 games, Simmons had two in three innings.
From a larger perspective, the Braves put their speed game on display, as B.J. Upton added a stolen base and Jordan Schafer had a bunt single in the seventh. Simmons also showed off some heads-up base running when he followed a third-inning steal by taking third on a throwing error by Mets catcher Anthony Recker.
2. Maholm's strong start went to waste
Paul Maholm has always pitched well against the Mets, but in a Braves uniform he's taken it to the extreme.
He entered Tuesday with a 3.58 ERA in 12 starts vs. New York, the second-lowest career ERA against any team with that many starts. But in two outings since being traded to Atlanta last July, he had been masterful, allowing no runs with eight hits, 11 strikeouts and three walks in 14 1/3 innings.
Maholm would get off to a similar start opposite Wheeler. He tossed six scoreless innings before giving up a two-run home run to Recker, marking the seventh time in eight games he's allowed a homer and the fifth straight. Maholm would exit after the frame, allowing nine hits in all with seven strikeouts and no walks.
He would get little help from the bullpen. Anthony Varvaro allowed four runs in the eighth inning, but Maholm was also unhappy with home plate umpire Paul Schrieber's strike zone, which he believed wasn't consistent throughout the game.
"I felt good, but it sucks to lose and it sucks to come down to where you go through two different strike zones," Maholm said. "The first few innings, I was making pitches and getting calls and then a couple innings later I'm making the same pitches and they're not called. It's part of the game. You've got to deal with the strike zone day-to-day and see what they're calling."
But the performance in all was part of a trend with Maholm.
While he has received an average of 4.5 runs in support per start in 2013, third among Braves starters behind Mike Minor (6.0) and Julio Teheran (4.8), this made three straight starts in which the Braves have scored two or fewer runs.
3. What's some roughhousing between brothers?
B.J. Upton was clearly calling off his brother as Omar Quintanilla's fifth-inning fly ball dropped toward left-center. But Justin Upton kept coming.
They collided, with B.J. Upton flipping heels over head. He held onto the ball to end the inning and stayed on his back, talking to Justin for a moment before getting up and running off the field together. But as they did, B.J. gave his smiling little brother a playful shove on his left shoulder.
It's clear the Uptons weren't adhering to the spring training declarations of their "sibling rivalry" commercial, in which Justin put a chalk line down left-center field, saying "This is my side, that's your side."