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Newcomb opens spring with strong outing

Lefty could make Braves' rotation if Gohara isn't ready; Soroka, Wright make camp debuts
February 24, 2018

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Luiz Gohara's bid for an Opening Day roster spot has been jeopardized by a left groin injury that has put him at least a week behind schedule. But because of a couple early season off-days, the left-hander could still be one of the first five

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Luiz Gohara's bid for an Opening Day roster spot has been jeopardized by a left groin injury that has put him at least a week behind schedule. But because of a couple early season off-days, the left-hander could still be one of the first five Braves to make a start.
"The good thing is it's not his arm, so he's still throwing, he's playing catch," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "We've just got to get him some [side sessions], live BP and stuff like that before we get him out there in a game. He's getting better. They say it's a day-to-day thing and that's pretty much what it is."
Gohara has been forced to limit his activities since his groin began bothering him late last week. The 21-year-old completed at least six innings in four of the five starts he made after being promoted to the Majors in September. He entered camp as a favorite for one of the two available rotation spots.
Because there are two off-days scheduled within the regular season's first eight days, the Braves have the option of using a four-man rotation until April 11. If Gohara is not ready by that date, Scott Kazmir and Sean Newcomb are the most likely candidates to fill the final two rotation spots.
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Newcomb began his rotation bid as he allowed one unearned run over one inning during Saturday afternoon's 6-1 loss to the Astros at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. The southpaw issued one walk and highlighted his 24-pitch outing by getting Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel to look at called third strikes. He got Correa with a curveball and retired Gurriel with a fastball.
Marwin Gonzalez opened the bottom of the first with a single and Jose Altuve followed with a walk. Newcomb nearly escaped unscathed, but Brian McCann was able to handle a lefty-lefty changeup just enough to deliver a bouncer that resulted in just one out after shortstop Charlie Culberson slid to snare it behind second base.
"I feel different than I did in the past," Newcomb said. "I feel like I have a little more command in the zone. Physically, I just feel better."
Young talent emerging
A year ago, Mike Soroka was trying to make the leap to the Double-A level and Kyle Wright was still taking classes and playing ball at Vanderbilt University. During Saturday's loss, both of these highly touted prospects pitched in a big league Spring Training game for the first time. Soroka, who ranks as MLB Pipeline's No. 31 prospect, surrendered a leadoff homer to Gurriel on a 2-2 slider that was supposed to be in the dirt. The 20-year-old Canadian then hit Jon Kemmer with a pitch before escaping the inning without any further damage.
"You're going to find two-strike breaking balls have to have a little depth to them," Snitker said. "When you throw those for strikes, these guys will hit them. That's not a bad thing. I can tell he's an aggressive kid because after the homer, he came right back in there."

Snitker and many of the other Braves coaches have spent the past couple weeks getting a better feel for Wright, who was taken out of Vanderbilt with the fifth overall selection in last year's Draft. The confident young hurler surrendered a leadoff single and then retired the next three batters he faced to complete a scoreless sixth inning.
"I felt a little out of sync at times, but for the most part, everything felt good," Wright said. "I felt like I was making good pitches for the most part. It's definitely something to build off."

The real test begins
Alex Jackson has impressed Braves coaches with his intellect and the tremendous power potential he has shown since the start of Spring Training. But the lingering question surrounding the former first-rounder is whether he can adequately handle the catching duties he was reintroduced to last year after being traded by the Mariners to the Braves.
Jackson certainly didn't hurt his defensive stock as he served as the starting catcher in Saturday's game against the Astros. The former outfielder made just 33 starts as a catcher for Class A Advanced Florida last year, but he tallied 15 more starts behind the plate during the Arizona Fall League.
"I really liked Jackson," Snitker said after Saturday's game. "He really blocked the ball well and received the ball really well. It was pretty good. I was very pleasantly pleased with what I saw from him. I was kind of hoping they'd run or steal earlier, because I wanted to see him throw."
As Spring Training progresses, Jackson will have plenty of opportunities to prove his power potential extends beyond the prodigious homers he hits during batting practice. But he struck out in each of Saturday's three at-bats.
Up next
Kazmir will take the mound when the Braves conclude their two-day stay in West Palm Beach with Sunday afternoon's game against the Nationals on MLB.TV. Acquired from the Dodgers in December, Kazmir missed all of the 2017 season with a hip injury. Austin Riley (ranked No. 97 on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list) is scheduled to start at third base.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for since 2001.