In their quest to draft, trade for and sign -- occasionally illegally -- young pitchers in hopes of stocking the franchise for the next several years, the Braves have been unable to answer one question: Who is going to stick?
But one starter was reaffirmed Thursday night.
Sean Newcomb is in only his second major league season, but the 24-year-old has been the strongest member of the starting rotation this season, and he had two significant accomplishments in the series opener against Washington:
• He won, 4-2, moving the Braves back into first place in the National League East by a half-game over the Nationals.
• He went seven innings, sparing the Braves’ sometimes chaotic bullpen of being overworked again. (Arodys Vizcaino got the save, but not before causing heart palpitations when ex-Brave Matt Adams ripped a pitch about 350 feet, just to the right of the foul pole with a runner on base in the ninth inning.)
The Nationals, as noted in a column earlier Thursday, have a significant advantage in this division race because of superior starting pitching. Their top four starters had accounted for 30 “quality starts” in 44 outings, while the Braves’ top four had only 19. (A quality start is allowing three or fewer runs while going six-plus innings.)
Newcomb now has seven quality starts, and he was a gem against the Nationals. He walked the game’s first two batters, allowing just one run in the inning, but allowed only two runs and four hits in seven innings. He raised his record to 6-1 and lowered his ERA to 2.73.
“I looked up and I think it was 10-0 -- balls and no strikes,” manager Brian Snitker said.
Actually, Newcomb’s first seven pitches were balls and it was 11-3 at one point. But close enough.
Snitker, continuing: “Then I looked up in the sixth, and he had just completely turned that thing around. And just to give up one run in that first inning is huge. He got on a roll and settled in. That’s a huge credit to him -- where he’s come from and where he’s going, that he’s able to regroup like that.”
Newcomb also bounced back from a tough start in Boston, his hometown, when he allowed three runs, six hits and walked four in only three innings in an 8-6 loss.
“He really answered that (question),” Snitker said.
Newcomb said he just “did a bad job locking in” to open the game.
“Last year that might’ve gotten away from me,” he said.
Newcomb’s start came the same day the Braves released Aaron Blair, and a day after they sent Matt Wisler back to Triple-A Gwinnett. Both once were touted prospects.
But Newcomb is rolling, and Mike Foltynewicz has strung together four consecutive strong starts after an early meltdown against San Francisco. So the Braves are finally seeing some positives from all those pitching moves.
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