Sean Newcomb was perfect Monday night, or as perfect as a young pitcher can get in his fourth spring-training start with a pitch count and a watchful manager.
Newcomb retired all 14 batters faced in a Grapefruit League game against the Phillies at Champion Stadium, leaving with two out in the fifth inning after throwing 38 strikes in 54 pitches and recording six strikeouts.
“Fastball command was good, so I was able to work off that,” Newcomb said. “Curveball was hit or miss, but I kind of found my groove with that later on.”
The Phillies won 3-0 on Mitch Walding’s three-run homer off reliever Arodys Vizcaino in the eighth inning.
The Braves didn’t want to leave Newcomb in any longer after the big left-hander worked one, two and three innings respectively in his first three starts.
He gave up four runs, four hits and two walks in six innings in those games including three homers (one per start). But in his past two starts he’s allowed just one hit, one run and one walk with eight strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings.
“Just the whole package, I keep thinking where he’s come from in a year,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “It’s pretty good compared to where he is now compared to where he was a year ago. He’s done a lot of hard work.
“You get them out there and they get confidence and do this, that’s kind of what you’re looking for. You can see it’s a pretty good package in there. I think his confidence and his ability to have faith in himself a lot of times is big in that respect also.”
He was sharp from the outset against a Phillies lineup featuring four regulars – Odubel Herrera, Cesar Hernandez, J.P. Crawford, Jorge Alfaro – along with prospects and minor leaguers. Newcomb had two strikeouts in the first inning and one in each the next four innings.
“I feel like the whole spring has kind of been a good progression forward,” he said. “Fastball was definitely the best it’s been so far, so I was able to get ahead with that.”
The Braves haven’t made it official yet but Newcomb will have one of the two rotation spots behind the trio of Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz and veteran newcomer Brandon McCarthy.
As a rookie in 2017, Newcomb was 4-9 with a 4.32 ERA and had 108 strikeouts with 57 walks in 100 innings.
Walks were his bugaboo as a rookie, and Newcomb has shown progress in that area this spring with 12 strikeouts and only two walks in 10-2/3 innings.
The reduced walks has been the most encouraging part of his spring for the Braves.
“Just a different mentality, attacking guys,” he said. “If they want to hit it, chances are it’s going to be an out. So I’ve just been attacking, playing for that, and everything’s been going well.
“I physically feel in control a little bit more too. I don’t know if it’s just a matter of experience, but I feel a little more in control of my fastball, I’m able to put that on the corners where I want to and everything’s working from there.”