The Braves lost to the Orioles 4-3 on Wednesday at Ed Smith Stadium. Here are some individual takeaways from the contest:
» Sean Newcomb’s start was a tale of two innings. His first was messy, beginning with consecutive Orioles singles (one of which was a broken-bat hit). Baltimore scored two runs in the inning, each scoring on a passed ball and wild pitch. Newcomb allowed three hits in the frame.
His second inning, in which he relied more on his improving change-up, was much cleaner. Newcomb struck out the side looking, finishing his day with four strikeouts and no walks.
“The change-up is definitely big because out of the bullpen, throwing a small amount of pitches, I wasn’t able to get to it too much,” said Newcomb, who used his change-up just under 7 percent of the time, per Baseball Savant. “It’s definitely been a focus, just keeping it up in (bullpens). I used it during that second inning, (complementing) the heater. It helps it play up for sure.”
Wednesday was the unofficial beginning of Newcomb’s bid to regain a rotation spot. The left-hander found a home in the bullpen last year, discovering unprecedented aggressiveness that made him a valuable piece of a 97-win team. The Braves are giving him another chance to start, with Newcomb hoping his reliever success will translate back into the rotation.
“It’s almost like that first inning, that first time, it’s just about getting a feel for the ball and getting back on the mound,” manager Brian Snitker said. “I was really glad we were able to send him back out there for that second inning. He got himself going. That was good.”
» If you’re looking for an eye-opening prospect early in camp, search no further than Bryce Ball. The enormous first baseman, selected in the 24th round from Dallas Baptist University last summer, blasted his first home run in the third inning. It came off former Braves prospect Bruce Zimmerman, who was sent to Baltimore in the Kevin Gausman trade of 2018.
Ball is listed at 6-foot-6, 235 pounds. From that perspective, it’s easy to understand why the 21-year-old has caught eyes in the past few weeks. Wednesday was the first time his batting-practice power came to light in a game. He also walked and reached on a fielder’s choice later in the game.
“That was fun to watch,” Snitker said of Ball’s homer. “We knew he can hit them a long way. They don’t call him ‘Drago’ (his nickname) for nothing. … That’s the kind of power that gets your attention, for sure.”
» New catcher Travis d’Arnaud homered on the first pitch he saw in his first game of spring. D’Arnaud, who’s replacing the retired Brian McCann, possesses a fair bit of pop. He had a three-homer game against the Yankees last season while with Tampa Bay.
D’Arnaud also made a nice throw to second that was in time to tag out the runner, but second baseman Ozzie Albies couldn’t maintain the ball. It was an overall impressive debut for the man who’ll team with Tyler Flowers to form the Braves’ latest catching tandem.
“He looked really good swinging the bat for the first day,” Snitker said. “It was good for him to get back in the swing of things now, learn some guys. He made a nice throw. Newk probably gets out of that inning with more pitches to spare.”
» Touki Toussaint is on the peripherals of the Braves’ starter competition, but he experienced few issues in his first work of spring. The righty allowed one hit over two innings, striking out one and – most important – not issuing a walk.
“I liked Touki,” Snitker said. “That was really good. That was a really good first step for him. Watching his sides, I think he’s cleaned himself up a lot. He’s a young kid who’s doing it and maturing. That was really nice to see out of him.”
Toussaint’s star isn’t shining quite like it was two seasons ago, when he was deemed one of the organization’s most promising youngsters, but his repertoire keeps him intriguing. Unfortunately for Toussaint, however, his explosive curveball has been overshadowed by erratic command, which has prevented him from staying at the major-league level.
While he’ll likely open the season at Triple-A Gwinnett, Toussaint’s versatility as a starter and reliever makes him important depth over the course of the season. Whether he becomes more than that remains to be seen.
» Looking ahead, Felix Hernandez will start Thursday’s game against the Twins, his second outing as he vies for a rotation spot. Mike Soroka, whose spring debut was delayed by a minor groin tweak, will make his first start Friday against the Yankees.
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