The Braves intend to keep Sean Newcomb in a relief role for the remainder of the season, manager Brian Snitker said Sunday.
Newcomb has been reborn in the bullpen. After opening the season in the rotation and finding little success, the Braves sent Newcomb to Triple-A. He returned as a reliever on May 4, where he’s since posted a 1.53 ERA in 25 appearances.
The 25-year-old has been among the most valuable pieces of a unit that fluctuated through the first half. The Braves aren’t stacked with quality relief options, and as such have little motivation to shift Newcomb back into their rotation, which could also be upgraded.
“I think he’ll stay right there where he’s at,” Snitker said before Sunday’s series-finale against the Nationals. “Late-inning guy who can go two innings. When he throws like (Saturday, when he pitched two scoreless innings), he’s not a matchup guy either. He still has the ability to (start), but I don’t know that we’ll intentionally go out and try to stretch him out. What we need him to do is what he did (Saturday).”
Newcomb couldn’t reel in his stuff through three starts. Yet he’s been a command artist in the bullpen, striking out 31 and walking just five in 29-1/3 innings. He posted a career-best scoreless streak in 11 consecutive outings from May 24 through June 30. He has not allowed a run in five games this month.
The left-hander’s length is even more valuable given the uncertain state of the rotation. Newcomb’s logged eight relief appearances of more than 1-1/3 innings, and four that exceeded two innings. Outside Dallas Keuchel, the Braves lack starters who consistently cover a sizable chunk of innings.
And if the occasion arises, the Braves won’t rule out inserting Newcomb into the ninth inning if the situation dictates it.
“There may be times during a stretch where we might try him in the ninth inning,” Snitker said. “That’s not something we’re trying to force, but it might present itself. If we get on some kind of roll and using guys like that, with his stuff, I’d definitely give him a crack at it.”