NEW YORK -- Though Sean Newcomb would not admit he was cognizant of the fact that he was auditioning for a spot in Atlanta's postseason rotation, he progressed through his final regular-season start with an aggressive approach that was not seen consistently enough during his first full year in the
NEW YORK -- Though Sean Newcomb would not admit he was cognizant of the fact that he was auditioning for a spot in Atlanta's postseason rotation, he progressed through his final regular-season start with an aggressive approach that was not seen consistently enough during his first full year in the Majors.
When the Braves discuss who to place in the final spot of the four-man rotation that will be used during the National League Division Series, they'll have fresh thoughts of the improved impression Newcomb made as he more consistently attacked the strike zone in Wednesday night's 3-0 loss to the Mets at Citi Field.
"He was turning the ball loose and attacking with his fastball," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "That's the kind of pitcher he is. Overall, I think it was a [really] positive outing."
While Snitker was certainly pleased with Newcomb's outing, he was among the many Braves who exited this loss singing the praises of Mets starter Jacob deGrom, who likely cemented the NL Cy Young Award while recording 10 strikeouts and allowing just two hits over eight scoreless innings.
The Braves bade adieu to a six-game winning streak and their attempt to balance rest against the desire to gain home-field advantage thanks to deGrom. The Mets tallied their first run courtesy of Dominic Smith's sixth-inning RBI single off Luke Jackson. Smith and Michael Conforto both hit solo homers in the eighth against Kyle Wright. Neither Wright nor Jackson have been considered a legitimate candidate to be part of Atlanta's bullpen in the playoffs.
Even with the loss, the Braves are a game ahead of the Rockies -- who beat the Phillies and moved into sole possession of first place after the Dodgers lost to the D-backs, and became the NL West team that could draw the Braves in the NLDS.
Though the arrival of Manny Machado and the healthy return of Justin Turner have ended the Dodgers' struggles against left-handed pitching, a matchup against Los Angeles might lead the Braves to give the vacant rotation spot to Newcomb, who came within a strike of no-hitting the Dodgers on July 29.
Newcomb's competition for the final rotation spot consists of two right-handers -- Touki Toussaint and Julio Teheran, who will make his final audition in Thursday's series finale. <p.> As Newcomb retired each of the first eight batters, he provided indication that this outing might be different than many of the others he'd experienced while posting a 7.44 ERA in his seven most recent starts. He pitched around Jeff McNeil's leadoff double in the fourth and brushed off the consecutive one-out walks issued to deGrom and Brandon Nimmo in the fifth. </p.>
"I thought he was great," Braves catcher Tyler Flowers said. "He had a couple tough calls that didn't go his way with the walks. He bounced right back after that and made some more pitches. All in all, I thought he did a great job."
Though he issued four walks while limiting the Mets to one hit over five scoreless innings, Newcomb looked more poised than he had during many of the starts made over the past three months. He entered with MLB's worst first-pitch strike percentage (53.6) and then proceeded to record a first-pitch strike against 13 of 20 Mets, 11 of the 15 faced through the first four innings.
"I was definitely very happy [with the first-pitch strike total]," Newcomb said. "That was the goal, to be aggressive and pound the fastball."
Provided four extra days of rest because the Braves opted to skip him during last weekend's series against the Phillies, Newcomb produced a season-high 94.8 mph average with his four-seam fastball. He recorded 13 called strikes and induced 10 whiffs within the 63 fastballs he threw during this 88-pitch effort.
"I hadn't pitched in a while, and I had a little extra energy," Newcomb said. "Getting ready for the postseason, I want to step my intensity up and get some good work in before we get there."
LOCKING UP THE CY?
While some might argue that he essentially locked up the Cy Young Award a few weeks ago, deGrom produced a dazzling finish to a superb season. The right-hander produced a 1.70 ERA over 32 starts. He allowed a season-high four runs on April 10 and surrendered one earned run or less in all but 11 of his outings.
"I don't know if I've ever seen him bad," Snitker said. "You kidding me? That guy is so good. You hate to face him, but again, you really like facing him because I really appreciate somebody as good at his craft as that guy is."
deGrom produced a 0.88 ERA in six starts against the Braves. But Wednesday marked the first time this season the Mets won a game he started against Atlanta.
Within Atlanta history (since 1966) the only other pitchers to total at least 40 innings and produce an ERA below 1.00 against the Braves in one season are Pittsburgh's Steve Blass (0.79 in '68) and Los Angeles' Bill Singer (0.87 in '69).
When asked if deGrom is the best pitcher in baseball, Flowers said, "I haven't faced everybody in the game, so I don't know. But I can't imagine anybody being any better than that."
Teheran will take the mound when the Braves conclude their series against the Mets on Thursday at 7:10 p.m. ET at Citi Field. As Teheran bids for the final spot in the postseason rotation, he'll attempt to extend his mastery over the Mets. He has a 1.86 ERA over his past six starts against New York. The Mets will counter with Jason Vargas, who has a 3.11 ERA over his past seven starts.
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.