Many have speculated that while Sean Newcomb looks like a favorite for this rotation, there is a chance he could always ultimately wind up back down in the bullpen. While I would not rule out the possibility, if he can continue pitching the way he currently is, that is not happening anytime soon.
Last season, the Braves moved Newcomb to the ‘pen partly out of necessity, and partly due to his play. He was struggling in the rotation, but they also desperately needed a southpaw in relief. The experiment went well.
The tall flamethrower found his control in short bursts following the move. His strikeouts spiked, and the walks dipped significantly. He limited batters to a .215 batting average and offered the Braves that much needed left-handed arm.
While Newcomb was superb out of the bullpen, the Braves did not trade him for the likes of Andrelton Simmons with that role in mind. He has always projected to be a starter, and at times, shown flashes of incredible potential. In May and June of 2018, as a member of the rotation, Newcomb posted an ERA of 2.07 and was on pace to becoming a potential All-Star. He was oh so close to throwing a no-hitter against the Dodgers at one point as well and pitched brilliantly against them in the playoffs. At his best, Newk was lights out. Unfortunately, the wheels came off the wagon in the second half of the season as he lost command of his arsenal, posting a 4.58 ERA during this stretch.
The Braves gave Newcomb a rotation spot to begin 2019, but his walks were out of control, and they had a very thin bullpen. Newcomb was terrific in relief, finding a new approach on the mound. Now, it is just a matter of whether he can translate this back to a starting role. So far, the results look promising.
The first glance we had of Sean Newcomb in 2020 was a little rocky, which is to be expected at the beginning of Spring Training. Despite a few wild pitches, he did not issue a free pass against the Orioles but did give up two runs in the first inning thanks to a couple of hits, and Travis d’Arnaud not being able to get in front of a pitch. He came out in the second inning looking dominant, striking out the side, finishing two innings with 4 K’s.
In his last two outings, Newcomb has been flawless.
The Braves have continued to stretch him out, so in his second appearance, he went three innings. During this outing, he gave up just two hits, no earned runs, and struck out four.
Against the Yankees on Sunday afternoon, Newcomb looked lights out once again. This time, he went four innings, and while he did issue his first two walks during exhibition play, he gave up just a few hits and blanked the Bronx Bombers, striking out four in the process.
Overall this Spring Training, Newcomb now has a 2.00 ERA with two walks and 11 strikeouts in 9 innings pitched. Sure, it is Spring Training, but the most important stat here is the number of walks. It looks like there is a possibility Newcomb has been able to harness his control in a starting role as well.
There has never been a question of whether Newcomb has the talent to be a great starter in this league, it has been a matter of keeping the ball over the plate and finding some sort of consistency. We saw him achieve this in the bullpen last year, and if he can take these lessons learned and apply it to a starting role, the 26-year old Newcomb could finally have his breakthrough season. With no Cole Hamels to begin the year and a ton of innings lost between the departures of Julio Teheran and Dallas Keuchel, if the Braves want to defend their NL East title, a peak Sean Newcomb can go a long way in helping do so.