LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- If Sean Newcomb can continue to control his aggression and attack the strike zone as he has over the past couple weeks, the Braves southpaw may start living up to his tremendous potential.Newcomb was a model of efficiency on Monday night, as he retired each
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- If Sean Newcomb can continue to control his aggression and attack the strike zone as he has over the past couple weeks, the Braves southpaw may start living up to his tremendous potential.
Newcomb was a model of efficiency on Monday night, as he retired each of the 14 batters he faced during the Braves' 3-0 loss to the Phillies. The 24-year-old hurler finished after 4 2/3 innings, during which he notched six strikeouts, induced five groundouts and threw 38 of his 54 pitches for strikes.
"He was sharp," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "Everything was pretty good."
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While it might not be wise to make too much of one Spring Training start, Newcomb has spent the past couple weeks showing off improved command. The 6-foot-5 hurler, who issued 5.1 walks per nine innings in the Majors last season, has issued just two walks through his first 11 2/3 innings this spring. Each of the three runs Newcomb has allowed this spring have come via solo homers.
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"I feel like the whole spring has been a good progression forward," Newcomb said. "It all came together [tonight]. My fastball was definitely the best it's been so far. I was able to get ahead with it."
Newcomb's primary weapon is his curveball. According to Statcast™, among the 63 pitchers who threw at least 300 curveballs last year, his 13.45 percent swing-and-miss rate ranked 26th. To provide some perspective, Clayton Kershaw had a 14.81 rate and Stephen Strasburg had a 13.37 rate. But those two have more weapons in their arsenal, and more important, they found themselves in more pitchers' counts. Among all pitchers who threw at least 100 innings last year, Strasburg led all Major Leaguers with a 69.4 first-pitch strike percentage. Kershaw ranked 33rd at 63.5 percent, and Newcomb ranked 109th at 58.6 percent.
Newcomb hasn't been assured a rotation spot, and there's a chance he might actually start in the Minors if Scott Kazmir earns a spot or the Braves start the season with a four-man staff. Regardless of what transpires, he seems committed to taking a different approach this season.
"It's just a different mentality [this year]," Newcomb said. "I'm attacking guys. If they hit it, chances are it's going to be an out. Physically, I feel more in control. I feel in control with my fastball. I'm able to put that on the corners where I want to."
Rough night for Vizcaino
The Braves held the Phillies hitless until Arodys Vizcaino allowed a pair of hits in the eighth inning, including Mitch Walding's three-run homer. Vizcaino used the outing to work on his changeup, an offspeed pitch he might use more this season.
Vizcaino has been a fastball-slider pitcher throughout his career. Per Statcast™, he used his changeup 3 percent of the time last year.
"The changeup has been pretty good," Snitker said. "He was just working on things more than anything. Once he's healthy, he's got the arm. I just want him healthy."
Another power arm
Scouts who have followed the Braves over the past couple weeks have been impressed by what they've seen from right-handed reliever Josh Graham, a former University of Oregon catcher who didn't begin pitching regularly until a few months before the Braves took took him in the fourth round of the 2015 Draft.
The 24-year-old reliever, whose fastball was clocked at 98 mph during a recent outing, remains a work in progress, as he posted a 4.69 ERA in 31 appearances for Class A Advanced Florida last season and a 1.38 ERA in 10 appearances for Double-A Mississippi.
"He's an interesting guy to me," Snitker said. "He's new to pitching, but I like him. He has the changeup and a good arm. It looks like he likes being out there. He asks a lot of questions. I really like what I've seen from him."
Left-handed reliever Jacob Lindgren has been shut down since feeling elbow discomfort while throwing a live batting practice session just before the start of the Grapefruit League season. Lindgren is not dealing with a structural issue, but the Braves want to take a cautious approach as the 25-year-old southpaw distances himself from his 2016 Tommy John surgery.
"We just wanted to shut him down, let him cool down and then start the progression," Snitker said.
Lindgren was considered a candidate to begin the 2016 season in the Yankees' bullpen, but his elbow became problematic during Spring Training and he ended up making just six appearances at the Class A Advanced level that year. The Braves signed him before the '17 season, which he missed due to his Tommy John rehab.
Kazmir will attempt to enhance his rotation bid when the Braves host the Blue Jays Tuesday at 1:05 p.m. ET. The veteran southpaw is the favorite to claim the rotation spot that opened when Luiz Gohara sprained his ankle last week. Ronald Acuna is expected to be in Atlanta's lineup. The game can be heard live on Gameday Audio.
Mark Bowman** has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.