Newcomb progresses in 'best start' of 2020

August 6th, 2020

ATLANTA -- Had the Braves' rotation not been fractured over the past few weeks, may have already been moved back to the bullpen.

But with limited options, the Braves are left hoping Newcomb extends the progress he showed in the Braves’ 2-1 loss to the Blue Jays on Wednesday night at Truist Park. The lefty still hasn’t completed five innings through any of his first three starts, but he’s steadily moved closer toward reaching that modest benchmark.

“I obviously want to go out and go more than five [innings] and have a better start, but there’s definitely been progress,” Newcomb said. “The offspeed is getting better, and these have been my first three starts in over a year and a half. It’s been a little bit of an adjustment. But I think I’m starting to click again using the whole repertoire.”

Once a top pitching prospect, Newcomb debuted in 2017, made an early All-Star bid in ‘18, then was optioned to Triple-A after just three starts in ‘19. He’s 27 years old now. There may not be many more chances for him to prove himself as a starter.

And quite frankly, he may not even have this current chance had the Braves not seen Mike Soroka, Mike Foltynewicz, Cole Hamels and Félix Hernández removed from their rotation plans at various points since the start of July.

So yes, there was reason for the Braves and Newcomb to feel some satisfaction after this latest outing, in which he was charged with two earned runs and five hits over 4 2/3 innings.

“That was encouraging tonight from Newk,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “It was a lot better than his first two [starts]. So hopefully he figures some stuff out.”

Quite frankly, Newcomb could have completed five scoreless innings with a little defensive assistance. Austin Riley, subbing in for Freddie Freeman at first base, cut a throw that ensured Vladimir Guerrero Jr. would score on Danny Jansen’s sacrifice fly in the second inning. The Blue Jays added a run in the fifth when Bo Bichette’s two-out sinking liner popped out of the glove of three-time Gold Glove Award winner Ender Inciarte in center field.

Newcomb was more efficient than he’d been on July 26, when he needed 82 pitches to record just 10 outs in a 14-1 win over the Mets. Five days later, that same New York lineup tallied six runs against him over 4 1/3 innings.

But the command issues that have bit Newcomb on a regular basis influenced Toronto’s first run. Guerrero got ahead with a 3-0 count before drilling a double in the second. Randall Grichuk followed by singling on a 3-2 fastball.

With that being said, Newcomb was more aggressive for the most part, looking like he did as he spent last season’s final five months serving as an effective reliever. He got ahead with a 0-2 count against Bichette and Cavan Biggio before they recorded the consecutive two-out singles that accounted for the decisive run in the fifth.

“I feel like today was his best start,” catcher Travis d’Arnaud said.

Newcomb threw 46 four-seam fastballs per Statcast. Within those pitches, he got 10 called strikes, three whiffs and 13 foul balls.

Further developing the curveball and changeup will help, but commanding the fastball is the key to Newcomb gaining the consistency he’s lacked throughout his career. His heater is an effective one. He used it with 102 of the 134 pitches he threw while coming within a strike of no-hitting the Dodgers on July 28, 2018.

“Statistically, the spin on [Newcomb’s fastball] is tremendous, and the axis on it is practically vertical,” d’Arnaud said. “So it’s very hard to get to, even if it’s down the middle. Guys are fouling it off when it’s down the middle. Guys were just able to get the timely hits when they needed them tonight.”

Guerrero and Grichuk tallied two of those timely hits after being able to gear up for fastballs after getting ahead with a three-ball count. But the mistakes were fewer, and Newcomb walked away feeling better about what his next start might bring.

“There’s progress being made,” Newcomb said. “That’s what we’re looking for.”