Could Sean Newcomb find a role in the Braves bullpen?

Braves catcher Alex Jackson  heads back to the plate after talking with pitcher Sean Newcomb during the second inning Saturday, April 13, 2019, at SunTrust Park in Atlanta.
Braves catcher Alex Jackson heads back to the plate after talking with pitcher Sean Newcomb during the second inning Saturday, April 13, 2019, at SunTrust Park in Atlanta.

Credit: John Amis

Credit: John Amis

Sean Newcomb stopped thinking about what could happen. When the Braves lefty was demoted to Triple-A Gwinnett, he was angry. It forced a mindset reset.

Newcomb formally returned Monday following three games in the minors. He pitched two clean relief innings against the Dodgers, allowing one hit and, most importantly, issuing no walks.

“He threw really good,” manager Brian Snitker said. “I liked what I saw out of him. He was aggressive, turning the ball loose. Good secondary stuff, it was good. It was encouraging to see.”

Perhaps that’s a preview of what’s to come. Newcomb looked at home in the bullpen, free to spin it without overthinking. There’s no time for “What ifs?” when you enter mid-game, expected to fire off strikes.

“That’s what makes my stuff play, makes me feel more comfortable,” Newcomb said. I was able to be aggressive, get into a groove and keep it going.”

Pre-demotion, Newcomb couldn’t reel himself in. He walked eight in 12-1/3 innings. It reached the point the team had to make a move, saying Newcomb needed to learn how to consistently find the zone upon his assignment.

It’s something many players go through, but that doesn’t make it less demeaning in their eyes, especially when they have a full season under their belt, as Newcomb did.

“I got a little ticked off by it,” Newcomb said. “Obviously you want to be here. But I was able to take that and stay focused, find something to get better at and not worry about it.”

Snitker hoped Newcomb would make the most of his experience. After walking four in his Triple-A debut, Newcomb made two starts with no walks. He allowed three earned runs over 13 innings in those last two outings.

“He did (make the most of it),” Snitker said. “I really feel he did. You look at the line, you look at the reports, it was very positive. That was really good for a two-inning stint out there (Monday).”

Newcomb was liberated in Gwinnett. He pitched more freely, less worried about potential results and more focused on each pitch. Too often Newcomb’s downfall was fearing what hadn’t even occurred. Living in the now proved fruitful.

He displayed that newfound thought process in his first game back. Early returns were positive.

Newcomb entered in the bottom of the sixth, pitching a perfect inning against the heart of the Dodgers’ order. He struck out Corey Seager to open the seventh, before Max Muncy singled. Newcomb coaxed a pair of groundouts to complete his stint.

“Just going after hitters, challenging them,” Newcomb said. “If I find myself falling behind, I just think about challenging them – not what could happen.”

A bullpen role enforces that mindset. Of his 29 pitches on Monday, he threw 19 strikes. He showed confidence reminiscent of his near no-hitter against the same opponent last season.

“Whatever it takes,” Newcomb said, confirming a willingness to work in relief. “I don’t really have a choice. I’m happy to go out there.”

The Braves need relief help and they want Newcomb is trying to find his niche. Monday gave a glimpse of an intriguing solution, one the Braves will likely toy with throughout the summer.

“Maybe,” Snitker said. “We’ll talk about it. It’s possible. That was pretty impressive tonight. I just love how aggressive he was. He wasn’t holding back, just letting it go.”