For many MLB players, Spring Training is a time to get “back in the swing of things” as they say — get loose, stretched out, etc. But there’s also a large pool of players that have much more on the line during these exhibition games. Sure, the games themselves are meaningless, but the next four weeks feature the perfect real-life audition for numerous guys battling for a position. Today, lefty Sean Newcomb will take the mound against the Orioles in what will be his first outing as a starting pitcher in 2020. And even though there are now two spots open in the Braves’ rotation, instead of the originally planned one, Newcomb’s overall performance this spring will be crucial in suggesting whether or not he is ready to return to the starting staff.
Granted, with today being his first outing of the year, it would be a stretch to expect more than two innings out of Newcomb. So far this spring, the Braves have been holding their first-time starters right at two frames, with Mike Foltynewicz, Bryse Wilson and Felix Hernandez all working exactly two innings in each of their outings over the first four games of Spring Training (Max Fried only got one out in his start on Monday).
Speaking of Foltynewicz, today’s outing for Newcomb could perhaps feel similar to Folty’s from Tuesday, as the hard-throwing righty turned in a solid performance yesterday against the Twins, as he too appears to have plenty to prove. Folty breezed through the opening inning and struck out three of the seven batters he faced while allowing just one hit, which was a second-inning solo home run.
Though for Newcomb, there wasn’t an awful stretch for him in 2019, at least not while pitching as a starter. After just four starts last season, Newcomb was moved permanently to the bullpen, though his actual numbers didn’t necessarily suggest such a move as he held a 3.60 ERA in that particular role. However, it was merely just a matter of time, considering opposing batters were hitting .305 versus him during those four starts, and he had more walks than strikeouts (10 BB / 8 K).
The Braves had seen enough of Newcomb as a starter last April against the Mets when he failed to get out of the second inning before surrendering four runs. Newcomb didn’t make another start until June 15 versus the Phillies (his final start), but it took him 61 pitches to work 2.2 innings… though his line still wasn’t near as bad as some of Foltynewicz’s 2019 performances.
In the end, the transition wound up being a success for Newcomb, and his numbers as a reliever were that of someone that perhaps belonged there. Over 53.1 relief innings and 51 appearances, Newcomb maintained a stable 3.04 ERA, while striking out 9.6 batters per nine and allowing a pedestrian .215 AVG. Frankly, Newcomb flourished in his new role.
Which brings us to the present. Who knows how difficult it is to convert back to a starting role, or how many starts Newcomb will need before he can get comfortable again using his entire repertoire. But it wasn’t that long ago that Newcomb turned in a 30-start season in 2018, amassing 160 strikeouts and a 12-9 record as a 25-year-old. He’ll turn 27 in June, but his above-average fastball and sneaky-good curveball haven’t gone anywhere (both were above-average offerings in 2019, according to FanGraphs Pitch Values), and the team believes Newcomb has grown overall as a pitcher.
The potential for him to crack a spot in the rotation is nowhere near as uncertain as before, but Newcomb must still prove he can handle the role. Starting today, his audition begins.
Today’s game: @ Orioles, 1:05 p.m. (EST)
- TV: MLB Network
- Radio: 1340 AM / 103.7 FM
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