ATLANTA -- Sean Newcomb has assumed the appearance of a frontline starter when matching up against the likes of the Mets and Marlins. But as he has experienced a steady decline over the past two months, he has created concern about how reliable he might be when the Braves need
ATLANTA -- Sean Newcomb has assumed the appearance of a frontline starter when matching up against the likes of the Mets and Marlins. But as he has experienced a steady decline over the past two months, he has created concern about how reliable he might be when the Braves need him most.
Newcomb's recent struggles were extended Wednesday night as he labored through four innings of an 8-5 loss to the Rays at SunTrust Park. The southpaw entered June as an All-Star candidate, but as August nears its end, he looks more like the weak link in what has recently been an otherwise stellar Braves rotation.
"I think it's just part of the baseball season," Newcomb said. "You're not going to be great every time out. I think [my struggles] are something I've got to deal with and minimize. It's just been a good stretch of facing good teams, and me not having my best stuff."
It didn't take long to realize this might be one of those nights for Newcomb, who allowed three two-out runs in the first, surrendered C.J. Cron's leadoff homer in the third and then made a mistake with a changeup Tommy Pham hit for a two-run run in the fourth. Newcomb was charged with six earned runs over four innings against the Rays, who have won nine of their past 10. The 25-year-old has allowed at least five earned runs in three of his past four starts.
"He didn't have a feel for his secondary stuff and his command wasn't great," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "It just wasn't a real good night."
Bolstered by the non-waiver Trade Deadline acquisition of Kevin Gausman, Atlanta's rotation has posted a 2.97 ERA over a 20-game span dating back to Aug. 10. Newcomb has produced an 8.38 ERA during his four starts in that span. The Braves' other starters have combined to construct a 1.94 ERA over the other 16 games.
Newcomb finished June with a 2.71 ERA and seemed to still be trending in the right direction when he came within a strike of no-hitting the Dodgers on July 29. But the manner in which he has produced a 5.88 ERA over 10 starts since the start of July should create concern for the Braves, who saw their National League East lead reduced to 3 1/2 games after the Phillies beat the Nationals on Wednesday.
Newcomb has completed his gem against the Dodgers, produced six scoreless innings during a matchup against Nationals' ace Max Scherzer and limited the Marlins to one run over 12 innings since the start of July. He's posted a 1.01 ERA in the four starts made against those teams within that stretch. But along the way, he has pitched to a 6.65 ERA while facing the Yankees, Brewers (twice), D-backs, Rockies and Rays.
"Physically, I feel the same," Newcomb said. "It's just a matter of pitching and just learning some more and moving forward."
Though the Braves still have plenty of work to do to gain a playoff berth, there is still reason to wonder whom they might place behind Mike Foltynewicz and Gausman in a postseason rotation.
But before thinking about the possibility of giving a start to Anibal Sanchez, Julio Teheran or possibly Touki Toussaint, Atlanta is hoping September proves to be different for Newcomb, who just two months ago was looking like a potential ace.
"This is his first start-to-finish year," Snitker said. "I think it's just a young guy having to figure out how to make adjustments. I don't really see anything, because he's been really good in the midst of all that. He's just been a tad inconsistent."
Johan Camargo highlighted his three-hit night with the game-tying, three-run homer he hit in the first inning against Diego Castillo's 99.7 mph fastball -- the fastest pitch hit for a homer in the Majors this year. The Braves have accounted for three of the five fastest pitches that have resulted in a home run this season. Camargo has hit two of those.
"It feels good," Camargo said through an interpreter. "I think everybody knows when you make good contact with a pitch that fast that the ball is going to carry."
The five fastest-pitch homers in 2018:
- Camargo: 99.7 mph vs. Castillo
2-T. Ozzie Albies: 99.6 mph vs. Noah Syndergaard (April 20)
2-T. Javier Baez: 99.6 mph vs. Gerson Bautista (June 2)
- Jose Bautista: 99.5 vs. Luis Severino (Aug. 13)
- Camargo: 99.3 mph vs. Bautista (May 29)
Snitker has remained patient with Sam Freeman, who provided a glimpse of hope as he touched 97 mph with his fastball while recording five strikeouts over two perfect innings. Freeman struggled with his command as he posted a 5.25 ERA before being placed on the disabled list with left shoulder inflammation at the end of July. He has allowed two hits and issued just one walk while working 3 1/3 scoreless innings over the three appearances made since being activated.
"He's been really good since he's come back," Snitker said. "He's been in some games where there wasn't any margin for error. But that was good to see tonight. It was good to see him turn the ball loose."
Foltynewicz will take the mound when the Braves host the Cubs for a makeup game on Thursday night. Foltynewicz has posted a 1.38 ERA in five August starts. The All-Star righty limited the Cubs to an unearned run and three hits over five innings on May 15. Chicago will counter with Mike Montgomery, who has a 2.82 ERA in four starts since the All-Star break.
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.