PITTSBURGH -- Before undergoing Tommy John surgery last year, Shae Simmons was conjuring memories of Craig Kimbrel's early days at the big league level. If Simmons' surgically repaired right elbow cooperates over the next couple weeks, the Braves will be glad to simply describe him as a much-needed addition to their bullpen.
Simmons used three strikeouts to pitch around a leadoff triple and the two-out walk he issued while beginning his Minor League rehab assignment with a one-inning stint in Triple-A Gwinnett's 4-1 win over Durham on Monday night. The Braves will closely monitor his progress with the hope that the hard-throwing right-hander could join the big league club by the first week of June.
Though the Braves made a concerted effort to upgrade the depth of their relief corps this past offseason, they entered Monday with the third-worst bullpen ERA (4.71) in the Majors. Closer Arodys Vizcaino and left-handed specialist Hunter Cervenka, who began this season with Double-A Mississippi, are Atlanta's only relievers who have made at least 10 appearances and posted an ERA less than 2.75.
Simmons posted a 1.35 ERA and limited opponents to a .162 batting average and a .237 on-base percentage through the first 22 career appearances he made before his elbow began bothering him in July 2014. The 25-year-old reliever missed the final two months of that season and then felt more elbow discomfort that led him to undergo Tommy John surgery just before the start of Spring Training in 2015.
If Simmons makes a successful return and is able to rekindle the consistency he had when he burst on the big league scene in 2014, he could provide the Braves the capable setup man they have lacked as Jim Johnson and Jason Grilli have struggled throughout this season.
The Braves placed Johnson on the disabled list last week with a right groin strain after his ERA reached 7.90 through 13 2/3 innings. Grilli's attempt to return from a potential career-ending injury (a torn left Achilles tendon) has not gone as well as he or the team had hoped. The former closer's ERA reached 6.94 (11 2/3 innings) after he surrendered a Kendrys Morales home run to end Sunday's 13-inning loss to the Royals.
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.