NEW YORK – Sean Newcomb has shown much promise in his first 3 ½ months in the major leagues, but the walks are something the hard-throwing Braves left-hander needs to get a handle on before he can expect to fully realize his vast potential.
Newcomb walked the leadoff hitter in the last three of his five innings of work Wednesday night against the Mets, including pitcher Robert Gsellman to start a two-run fifth inning that gave the Mets a lead they wouldn’t relinquish in a 7-1 series-finale win at Citi Field.
They blew the game open with a Dominic Smith three-run homer off beleaguered Braves reliever Jim Johnson in a four-run seventh inning, all the runs unearned following a two-out fielding error by Freddie Freeman. Yes, it turned into an ugly night for the Bravos.
“We had our opportunities, we just didn’t get it done tonight,” said Freeman, who struck out with bases loaded to end the fifth inning with the score tied, 1-1.
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Freeman lost nine pounds since a bout with a stomach virus over the weekend and wasn’t able to keep down any meal until Tuesday night. “I don’t feel the best, but that’s not an excuse,” he said. “I need to play better than I did tonight.”
Johnson recorded two outs and was charged with four unearned runs, two hits and two walks, the last run on his ledger scored when Ian Krol gave up an RBI double to the first batter he faced, Jose Reyes.
The supplanted former Braves closer has a 5.56 ERA this season, but Johnson had recorded five outs in two perfect appearances since returning from a three-week absence for Achilles tendinitis before Wednesday, when he gave up a walk before the Freeman error, then allowed another hit and walk after the homer before being replaced.
“The last couple of times have been pretty good, it’s kind of looked like he was rebounding,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I think he tried to cut a fastball in on Smith and didn’t get it…. It’s hard, because I respect the heck out of him and he’s been a very successful pitcher for a long time. He’s going through a tough spot. And like I say, he’s had two or three good ones and thought maybe he kind of turned the corner and regrouped, and just had a hard time making a pitch tonight.”
Rookie Ozzie Albies had three hits and his first two-stolen base game for the Braves, who lost three of four in the series and 12 of 19 this season against the Mets. They need at least a split in a season-ending four-game series against the Marlins that starts Thursday in Miami if they are to avoid a third consecutive 90-loss season.
Newcomb (4-9) gave up four hits, three runs and four walks with seven strikeouts in five innings, all the runs scoring in the fourth and fifth innings including the leadoff hitter he walked in each of those frames.
“That’s kind of how it’s been all year for him,” Freeman said. “Once he gets the walks under control I think he’s going to be a top-of-the-rotation kind of guy. He’s got a power arm, great curveball, and once he gets the walks under control, I think you’re going to see him there with the low-3.00 ERAs.
It was the final start of the season for Newcomb, who finished with a 4.32 ERA and 108 strikeouts with a glaring 57 walks in 101 innings.
“The command was kind of here and there. Just wasn’t real sharp,” Snitker said of the rookie’s final start, adding that Newcomb had never pitched in games this late in the year. “He went into uncharted territory. He never pitched this late competitively like that. So until they go through it they don’t know how to go through it. And he’s made it. So that’s a good thing.
“I like what I see. The upside’s really good with this kid. He’s going to have to – they’ve all got things they need to work on, but the experience is, like I keep saying, really good for them here. I think he should go away from this season thinking that he belongs here, that he can pitch here, he’s got the stuff to pitch here. It’s just about executing pitches.”
Newcomb said, “It’s been good, something to build off of. I felt pretty good the last handful of starts. Curveball felt good today, had all three pitches working pretty well today. Going to use this offseason to build off of it and come back stronger…. I’m ready to get going already (to prepare for 2018). I’m already pretty anxious.”
Albies’ RBI single in the third gave the Braves a 1-0 lead, but the Mets tied it in the fourth after Newcomb walked Juan Lagares to start the inning. Asdrubal Cabrera followed with a single and Travis d’Arnaud drove in a run with a fielder’s choice grounder that shortstop Dansby Swanson botched, his error allowing Cabrera to reach second.
One ground-out and a strikeout later, Newcomb walked Travis Taijeron to load the bases, but Matt Reynolds flied out to strand three and keep the score tied.
The Braves returned the favor an inning later when Freeman struck out on an eight-pitch at-bat with bases loaded to end a scoreless inning and leave him 2-for-10 with bases full, with no walks, two strikeouts and four RBIs.
Newcomb worked out of a jam in the fourth inning but couldn’t pull it off in the fifth after walking Gsellman to start things off. Jose Reyes followed with a single and two outs later, d’Arnaud singled up the middle to drive in both runners. The Mets had a 3-1 lead after five innings despite being 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position at that juncture.
Gsellman (8-7) limited the Braves to six hits, one run and one walk in six innings.
The Braves won five of Newcomb’s last seven starts before Wednesday and the big lefty was 3-1 with a respectable 3.96 ERA in that span, though he had an .383 opponents’ OBP that included 20 walks in 36 1/3 innings. Add his four walks Wednesday and the total climbed to 24 walks with 47 strikeouts in 51 1/3 innings over his past eight starts.
“I think that was a good last start for him,” Freeman said. “He can take a lot of positives out of this one. He pounded the zone, couple of walks here and there but came right back at them. Just made one mistake to d’Arnaud with the curveball, but other than that I thought he pitched pretty good.”