ST. PETERSBURG -- Ronald Acuna Jr. has continued to live up to tremendous expectations, and his good friend, Ozzie Albies, has done his part to also prove you don't have to be older than 21 to be one of the game's most exciting players.But as the Braves look at this
ST. PETERSBURG -- Ronald Acuna Jr. has continued to live up to tremendous expectations, and his good friend, Ozzie Albies, has done his part to also prove you don't have to be older than 21 to be one of the game's most exciting players.
But as the Braves look at this year's success and evaluate how it might positively influence their future, the most encouraging development comes in the form of Sean Newcomb, who once again looked like a top-flight starter as the Braves snapped a season-long three-game losing streak with Tuesday night's 1-0 win over the Rays at Tropicana Field.
"He's pitching with a lot more confidence," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "He has confidence in all of his pitches. He's not panicked when he's getting behind in the count. I thought he came back well in a lot of counts and got good [results]. Before, it would get away from him."
Newcomb wasn't necessarily at his best as he limited the Rays to two singles over six innings. But as he recorded six strikeouts and pitched around three walks during this 108-pitch effort, he preserved the advantage he gained courtesy of the two-out solo shot Acuna hit in the third inning off an otherwise flawless Blake Snell, who scattered four hits over 6 1/3 frames.
Sparkling defensive plays made by Johan Camargo and Albies helped Atlanta's bullpen complete three scoreless innings. This win -- the eighth within the last nine road games -- helped the Braves distance themselves from the frustration felt as their starting pitching faltered while being swept by the Giants this past weekend.
"It all starts on the mound," Snitker said. "Newk gave us a great outing and gave us an opportunity."
As Newcomb worked through last year's rookie season primarily using just his fastball and curveball, he certainly didn't create the confidence he's had while posting a 1.98 ERA over his past six starts. His current stretch of 13 consecutive scoreless innings has been aided by the additional comfort he's found with his changeup, a pitch he used a career-high 32.4 percent (35 of 108) of the time during Tuesday's outing.
Instead of primarily having a two-pitch repertoire that allowed hitters to quickly identify the curveball, Newcomb now can keep hitters off balance by consistently presenting the changeup, which comes out of his hand on the same plane as his fastball.
"I definitely had a glimpse of [the changeup] being good and down [in the zone] with some good movement [during Spring Training]," Newcomb said. "I knew it was in there. It's just something I worked on this offseason and focused on this spring. It's definitely been a big pitch for me."
If Newcomb extends his success and Mike Soroka lives up to early expectations, the Braves will possess depth within this year's rotation and at least have a better feel for how next year's rotation might be structured. Mike Foltynewicz remains an uncertainty and time will tell just how prospects Luiz Gohara, Kolby Allard and Kyle Wright might factor into short-term plans.
But Newcomb's progress has certainly pushed the Braves in the right direction.
"He's pitching with a lot more confidence," Snitker said. "He has confidence in all of his pitches. He's not panicked when he's getting behind in the count. I thought he came back well in a lot of counts and got good [results]. Before, it would get away from him."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Another long ball: Acuna provided another glimpse of his tremendous talent when he identified Snell's 3-2 slider and sent it a projected 434 feet into the left-center-field seats. The 20-year-old phenom has hit .320 with three homers through his first 50 career at-bats.
"Every time he gets up there, you know he can hit the ball hard," Newcomb said. "It's been exciting to have another good player in the lineup." More >
Ozzie's leap: After Wilson Ramos opened the bottom of the ninth with a single, he was replaced by pinch-runner Mallex Smith. The speedy former Braves outfielder's bid to tally a game-tying run was thwarted when Albies rose to grab a Denard Span liner and then threw to first base to complete a rally-thwarting double play.
"When he was in the air at his peak, it seemed like he added a little more," Snitker said of Albies' leap.
The addition of the changeup has given Newcomb another weapon that has helped him limit opponents to a .115 batting average with two strikes. He surrendered a pedestrian .198 batting average against these pitches last year.
"When he started using that, it's kind of a go-to pitch for him and it's a good one," Snitker said. "I think all of that helps him become more confident with what he's doing. He doesn't panic if he gets behind. He can fight back in counts and get good [results]."
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Playing in place of injured shortstop Dansby Swanson, Camargo showed off his tremendous arm as he took a feed from Albies and fired to first base to turn a key double play on Adeiny Hechavarria's ground ball in the seventh inning. Statcast™ recorded Camargo's throw at 90.4 mph.
HE SAID IT
"He's still got 93 [mph] and it's still moving. It kind of looks like old Jonny to me. Nothing has really changed. His delivery is the same and his stuff is really live." -- Snitker, on former Braves reliever Jonny Venters, who extended his comeback from "3 1/2" Tommy John surgeries by holding Atlanta scoreless in the ninth
Julio Teheran will oppose Ryan Yarbrough when the Braves and Rays conclude a two-game series Wednesday at 7:10 p.m. ET. Teheran has completed at least six innings and allowed two runs or fewer in four of his past five starts. Yarbrough will be making just his second career start.
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.