ATLANTA -- As the Braves skid through their worst drought of the season, they certainly aren't in a position to celebrate moral victories. But knowing how important Sean Newcomb could be in the second half, they can at least delight in the way he responded to what could have been
ATLANTA -- As the Braves skid through their worst drought of the season, they certainly aren't in a position to celebrate moral victories. But knowing how important Sean Newcomb could be in the second half, they can at least delight in the way he responded to what could have been another disastrous start.
Newcomb had reason to be frustrated by his inability to throw a strike throughout much of the first inning of Saturday afternoon's 3-0 loss to the D-backs at SunTrust Park. But by the time he minimized damage in that frame and willed himself into the sixth inning, the blame had to be shared with a struggling Braves offense that wasn't ready for a matchup against All-Star Zack Greinke.
"I feel like I'm right where I need to be," Newcomb said. "Those few good innings put me on the right foot for sure."
Since bumping their National League East lead to 3 1/2 games following an 11-inning win on July 2 at Yankee Stadium, the Braves have lost eight of 10 and tallied two runs or fewer five times during this stretch. Their pitching staff has endured its own share of struggles. But Newcomb managed to provide some hope as he allowed just three runs and lasted 5 2/3 innings after laboring throughout a 36-pitch first.
"You're going to go through it," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "It's not necessarily going to be physical, it's the mental wars that you're going to fight with yourself in this game."
Having already completed fewer than four innings in his two previous starts this month, Newcomb had reason to wonder if he was even going to escape the first of this latest outing. He recorded a strike with just seven of his first 21 pitches, walked three of the first four batters faced and surrendered Steven Souza Jr.'s RBI single before recording the game's second out.
"That first inning, I was a little sweaty, so I tried not to worry about the grip," Newcomb said. "I was trying to feel too much and be too fine on the edges. From the second inning, I just kind of had a 'grip it and rip it' kind of approach."
The 25-year-old southpaw showed some moxie as he limited his first-inning damage to one run and did not allow a third until his 102-pitch outing concluded with Ketel Marte's two-out solo homer in the sixth. Newcomb retired 16 of the 18 batters he faced between Souza's single and Marte's homer. He encountered a three-ball count just twice within this span.
"I ended on a good note," Newcomb said. "Aside from that solo home run, where he just beat me on a pitch I missed up with, I gained something to build on. I just need to keep being aggressive."
Greinke gained the early advantage and then cruised, scattering four hits over a season-high 7 2/3 innings. The right-hander did not allow a Brave to pass second base. He surrendered Dansby Swanson's one-out single in the eighth and then watched Archie Bradley strand two by ending the inning with an Ozzie Albies strikeout.
"You know you're going to go through this," Snitker said. "We went a long time without experiencing it. We're in a rut here, but you look up and we're still right in the thick of this thing. I see real good baseball on the other side."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Swanson began his two-hit performance with a third-inning leadoff single and advanced to second base on a sacrifice bunt. But Greinke escaped with some help from left fielder David Peralta, who ran into the left-center-field gap to grab Ender Inciarte's line drive.
Inciarte's liner came off his bat at 93.2 mph -- the second-highest exit velocity he has produced on a ball hit to the outfield since the start of July, per Statcast™. The veteran leadoff hitter has batted .176 with a .300 on-base percentage over his past 18 games.
"It's not just going to come easy, to where we start getting 15 hits every game and scoring a bunch of runs," Snitker said. "You're going to have to continue to weather that storm, and that stuff happens in baseball."
Newcomb recorded a career-low two swing and misses, marking just the 13th time since the start of 2016 a Braves starter tallied two or fewer in an outing that consisted of at least 50 pitches. The others to do so were Bartolo Colon (three) Matt Wisler (two), Joel De La Cruz (two), Lucas Sims, John Gant, R.A. Dickey, Williams Perez and Tyrell Jenkins.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Inciarte has struggled at the plate, but he continues to provide value with his tremendous range. The two-time Gold Glove Award-winning center fielder raced toward the right-center-field gap and cooly snared a Souza liner that had an 18 percent catch probability to begin the fourth. Inciarte has three five-star catches, which is two fewer than the NL-leading total of the Reds' Billy Hamilton.
Julio Teheran will take the mound when the Braves conclude the season's first half against the D-backs at 1:35 p.m. ET on Sunday. Teheran found comfort with his slider as he threw a season-high 37 while limiting the Blue Jays to one run and three hits over 6 2/3 innings on Tuesday. Arizona will counter with All-Star Patrick Corbin, who has a 4.02 ERA over his past eight starts.
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.