Braves option Sean Newcomb to training site after loss to Phillies

The Braves were down three runs before recording an out Monday night. It only worsened from there, ultimately ending Sean Newcomb’s brief return to the rotation.

Bryce Harper’s three-run homer opened the floodgates in the first inning. The Phillies added another seven in the second, defeating the Braves 13-8 at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. The rivals split a four-game series, with the Braves taking the middle games in Sunday’s doubleheader.

Newcomb’s renewed starting stint lasted four games. The Braves optioned him to the alternate training site in Gwinnett County following Monday’s start, which was among the worst in his career. The lefty allowed eight earned runs on six hits over 1-1/3 innings, requiring 47 pitches to record four outs.

“Go back down and work,” manager Brian Snitker said he told Newcomb. “Just like last year (when he was optioned to Triple-A), he’ll go down to the alternate site and keep throwing. We’re going to need him again before this thing is over with. I don’t know if he’ll be starting, relieving, whatever. He just has to go back and keep pitching.”

Former Brave Phil Gosselin opened the bottom of the first with a single. Rhys Hoskins followed with his own hit, setting up Harper’s blast. Harper, who was on base three times, hit a middle-low fastball 445 feet.

Newcomb retired three of the next four batters, pitching around a walk to Jean Segura. The optimist’s hope was that Newcomb could settle in, cover innings and keep the Braves within striking distance. The opposite occurred.

After retiring the first batter in the second, Newcomb allowed five consecutive Phillies to reach base. Roman Quinn homered, extending the Phillies’ lead to 4-1. Gosselin singled and Hoskins walked to bring up Harper, who was hit in the hand by a pitch to load the bases.

J.T. Realmuto singled home the Phillies’ fifth run. Manager Brian Snitker was forced to dip into his bullpen, bringing in newcomer Robbie Erlin, who allowed a grand slam to Didi Gregorius and an ensuing homer to Segura.

The Braves were down 10-1 when the second inning concluded. With their rotation dwindling, the Braves needed starters to step up, especially to spare their heavily worked bullpen. Yet Newcomb had one of his worst showings. As such, he lost his rotation spot.

“It’s frustrating,” Snitker said. “It’s frustrating for him, too, I’m sure. But we’ll keep working with him, and he’ll get another opportunity.”

Across four starts, Newcomb owned an 11.20 ERA. He’s allowed 17 earned runs over 13-2/3 innings. The hard-throwing but erratic Newcomb found success in the bullpen last season, learning how to pound the strike zone and attack hitters relentlessly. He and his team hoped the newfound mindset would translate as he returned to the rotation.

Instead, for the second time this season, the Braves discarded one of their primary starters immediately after a poor performance. Following his first start, Mike Foltynewicz was designated for assignment and later outrighted to the alternate site. Newcomb will now join him.

Whenever Newcomb returns – and Snitker was clear he would be back – he likely will be back in the bullpen. Newcomb sees himself as a starter and wants to start, but right now, Snitker said the best place for him is probably the bullpen.

“As of right now, probably, yeah (he’s best as a reliever),” Snitker said. “Just from what I’ve witnessed the past couple years. He had a really good year a couple years ago, but it’s been inconsistent since then. We put him in the ‘pen last year and he did a pretty good job. As a young, strong arm, I think he can be a productive major-league pitcher in some capacity.”

The Braves’ rotation looks nothing like the team expected entering the year. Ace Mike Soroka is out for the season with an Achilles tear. Foltynewicz and Newcomb were sent to the alternate camp. Felix Hernandez decided against playing and Cole Hamels hasn’t even started throwing off a mound.

Even so, Snitker feels good about where the team stands after 18 games. He didn’t know what the Braves would do with Newcomb’s vacated spot. They have several candidates, including Bryse Wilson, Tucker Davidson and Ian Anderson, stationed in Gwinnett.

The rotation currently includes three pitchers: Max Fried, Touki Toussaint and Kyle Wright.

“I feel like we have some young guys with stuff that are going to get some really good experience,” Snitker said. “I’ve already seen those guys make improvements and take steps forward. I think this is a great opportunities for those guys.”

Notes from Monday:

- It wasn’t how Erlin would’ve drawn up his Braves debut. The left-hander allowed four runs on four hits (three home runs) in 2-2/3 innings. The relievers following him – Grant Dayton, Shane Green and A.J. Minter – allowed one run over the final four innings.

- Two of the Braves’ runs came on solo homers from Travis d’Arnaud and Johan Camargo, whose homer was part of a seven-run ninth. Austin Riley capped the Braves’ sudden scoring burst with a two-run shot.

Phillies ace Aaron Nola had cruised through the first eight innings. His only miscue came in the second, when d’Arnaud planted a fastball in the seats. The Phillies bullpen was dismal in the final frame, as it has been the entirety of the season.

- Nick Markakis hit his 500th career double in the ninth inning, scoring the Braves’ sixth run. He’s the 64th player to accumulate 500 doubles. Only three other active players have achieved such: Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera and Robinson Cano.

“That’s an unbelievable accomplishment,” Snitker said. “Another feather in his cap for the long, unbelievable career he’s had. He got his 1,000th RBI last year, 500th double tonight. Unbelievable. Just speaks volumes of the man and ballplayer he’s been for a long time.”

- The Braves (11-6) traveled to New York after Monday’s game for a two-game series against the Yankees. Touki Toussaint will start Tuesday against Yankees southpaw Jordan Montgomery. Wednesday would’ve been Wright’s turn, but the Braves pushed him to Friday in Miami.

The team hasn’t announced a starter for Wednesday, but it could use a similar “bullpen game” strategy that worked successfully in the first game of Sunday’s doubleheader. The Braves are off Thursday, which makes the concept easier.