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'Ticked off' Newcomb provides silver lining in LA

@mlbbowman
May 7, 2019

LOS ANGELES -- After making an encouraging return to the Major League level by producing two scoreless relief innings in the Braves’ 5-3 loss to the Dodgers on Monday night, Sean Newcomb made it clear he was motivated by anger as he spent the past three weeks enduring a demotion.

LOS ANGELES -- After making an encouraging return to the Major League level by producing two scoreless relief innings in the Braves’ 5-3 loss to the Dodgers on Monday night, Sean Newcomb made it clear he was motivated by anger as he spent the past three weeks enduring a demotion.

“I feel like I was able to get a little ticked off about it,” Newcomb said. “Obviously, you want to be here. But I was able to take that and focus on using each day to find something to get better with and not worry about something I can’t control.”

Box score

Quite frankly, this is how the Braves wanted Newcomb to feel when they opted to demote him to Triple-A Gwinnett after he retired just three of 10 batters faced in an April 13 start against the Mets. The former top prospect had allowed opponents to produce a .397 on-base percentage through his first three starts this season, and he owned a 5.94 ERA over 11 starts since Aug. 12.

Something had to change with the talented southpaw, who has battled control issues throughout his professional career. The 25-year-old didn’t issue a walk in his last two starts for Gwinnett, and he continued to display an enhanced sense of aggression as he recorded a strike with 19 of 29 pitches thrown against the Dodgers. He experienced one three-ball count in the seven batters he faced, and a Max Muncy single was the only blemish to his line.

“He threw really well,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I loved what I saw out of him. He was aggressive, and he was turning the ball loose. He had good secondary stuff. It was encouraging to see.”

Newcomb has had success against the Dodgers in his career, nearly no-hitting them last July. But this outing was still impressive enough to wonder what role he might fill moving forward. There is no current void in the rotation, but there’s a chance he could be used to start Saturday if Kevin Gausman drops the appeal of his 5-game suspension.

Or the Braves could opt to give Newcomb a chance to be a multi-inning asset in the bullpen, filling the void created when Josh Tomlin transitioned from long reliever to high-leverage option.

“It feels like every time he faces the Dodgers, this is what we see,” Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said. “So hopefully we can have him carry this over to all his other outings.”

Free passes hurt Gausman

While Newcomb pounded the strike zone, Gausman paid for the charity he provided the Dodgers courtesy of four walks over 4 1/3 innings. He committed a throwing error on Cody Bellinger’s surprise bunt in the first and surrendered another unearned run when Brian McCann was charged with a passed ball in the second.

But consecutive one-out walks fueled the Dodgers’ decisive two-run third, and another free pass preceded Chris Taylor’s RBI double in the fifth. If looking for a reason Gausman has posted a 5.00 ERA through seven starts, you can look at his increased walk rate -- nine percent, as opposed to six percent last year -- and an increased home run rate. He’s already allowed as many home runs (5) through 36 1/3 innings as he did over 59 innings with the Braves last year.

But this outing was unique in that it came on just two days’ rest following Friday’s 28-pitch start that ended when he was ejected for throwing at Miami’s Jose Urena. He appealed the suspension that followed and said he felt fine against the Dodgers.

“There’s no asterisk next to these games, so you’ve just got to go out and give it your best,” Gausman said.

Homers aren't enough

Dodgers starter Walker Buehler struck out seven of the first 11 batters faced and did not allow a run until Freeman hit a 446-foot, two-run homer to center field in the sixth. Nick Markakis added a solo shot in the seventh for the Braves, who have completed the first 20 percent of the season on pace to hit 217 homers, which would be the third-highest total in Atlanta history.

It has certainly been encouraging to see Freeman tally five of his seven homers within the past 12 games. But the veteran first baseman exited this game more upset about the fact he struck out after Ozzie Albies began the game with a single and stole second base.

The Braves had just three at-bats with runners in scoring position during this series opener, and they have hit .165 with RISP while going 7-7 over their last 14 games.

“Those are the situations where you need to come through and get a hit and get a run early,” Freeman said. “We weren’t able to do that. But power is going to keep you in ballgames. It’s really hard in this league to get three hits in a row.”

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.