Sean Newcomb almost escaped a bases-loaded, two-out jam. Then came Ian Desmond, hitting .321 in July, to clear the bags. Newcomb had the chance to work his way out of danger again in the sixth but to no avail.
The Braves couldn’t overcome it, losing 11-5 Friday night. The Rockies made Newcomb look more like his 2017 rookie version rather than the emerging ace he’s been at times this year. Colorado took advantage of his command issues, parlaying two innings into seven runs.
D.J. LeMahieu’s double and Nolan Arenado’s base hit in the third made for trouble. Newcomb walked Trevor Story to load the bases, but got Carlos Gonzalez to pop out to third.
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Then came Desmond. The lefty served him consecutive changeups, with the second one landing in the left-center gap and scoring three runs. Newcomb similarly struggled in the sixth, when four hits – topped off by Blackmon’s triple down the first-base line – pushed him out of the game.
“It seemed like they were hitting balls at people, and hitting balls softer for hits,” Newcomb said. “It got frustrating with that. But I was pretty happy with how I was delivering pitches. Obviously not the outcome, but I think there’s definitely stuff to build off of.”
The Braves didn’t have anybody warming up in the bullpen entering the sixth. Newcomb faced five hitters, four of whom reached base, before being relieved by Chad Sobotka. Rockies starter Kyle Freeland reached on a bunt single before Blackmon’s finishing punch.
“I was hoping, where we were, that he could get through the sixth,” said manager Brian Snitker, who felt comfortable with Newcomb facing Blackmon for a fourth time. “Just a rough night for him.”
Newcomb had a 1.82 ERA when pitching following a loss after 13 such starts, second best in the majors behind Jacob deGrom. But his previous two against the Brewers and Rockies won’t elicit optimism.
The lefty has allowed 12 earned runs on 21 hits in his last 9-1/3 innings. He held the Nationals to a run over six frames in his first start following his 134-pitch near no-hitter. He’s since been bested by a pair of deadly playoff-caliber offenses.
“He’s going to have games like that,” Snitker said. “Just get through it and regroup, get ready for the next one.”
He’s thrown 135 innings, already 35 more than his major-league total a season ago. There’s a drastic difference when Newcomb has an additional day of rest: He has a 2.36 ERA in 12 such starts against a 5.64 mark in eight starts on regular rest.
Kolby Allard was knocked around again in his third outing. He allowed three runs on four hits in the eighth inning in his first appearance since Aug. 7 in Washington.
Utilityman Charlie Culberson pitched the ninth for the Braves, allowing a run on two hits and topping at 94 mph. He last pitched in 2007 when he was in high school. He used the same ball for the entire inning.
“Got a little nervous just because I haven’t done it in a long time,” Culberson said. “Had fun out there. Something different. I enjoyed it.”
The offense had just three hits off Freeland: A grounder past short and two infield hits. He struck out nine in six innings.
“He’s better than what I remembered (from) when we were there (in April),” Snitker said. “We knew coming in that he was on a little run here.”
Colorado didn’t appear fazed by the Braves’ five-game winning streak entering the series. The Rockies already leapfrogged the Dodgers in the National League West and entered the day 1.5 games behind the Diamondbacks for first place.
The Braves are 9-16 against that division, where four teams are still somewhat in the playoff race. If the Braves make the postseason, there’s a strong chance they’ll oppose one of those teams.
That may not be a welcomed reality. The Giants, who are barely alive in the race, dismantled the Braves in a sweep at SunTrust Park. The Diamondbacks won two of three last month. Los Angeles already won the season series, and while the Braves took two of three in Denver, the Rockies are stronger than they were in that early April meeting.
Philadelphia beat Noah Syndergaard and the Mets, 4-2, trimming the Braves’ NL East lead to a half-game.