The curious case of Sean Newcomb, a Brave no longer

031622 North Port: Atlanta Braves pitchers Sean Newcomb (right) and Kyle Muller loosen up their arms during Spring Training at CoolToday Park on Wednesday, March 16, 2022, in North Port.    “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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031622 North Port: Atlanta Braves pitchers Sean Newcomb (right) and Kyle Muller loosen up their arms during Spring Training at CoolToday Park on Wednesday, March 16, 2022, in North Port. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Sean Newcomb was once a big deal. He’d been drafted in Round 1 by the Angels. He was a reason the Braves were willing to trade Andrelton Simmons, among the best defensive shortstops ever, in 2015. For one shining moment, Newcomb seemed the best of the ballyhooed lot of young arms.

The Braves designated him for assignment last week. Then they traded him to the Cubs for Jesse Chavez, who has been traded eight times. “I was kind of trapped there,” Newcomb said on his Chicago arrival, proclaiming himself healthy and reenergized by the move.

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Newcomb is 28. He’s left-handed. It’s often said that left-handers require patience. (Check the first six seasons of Sandy Koufax’s career.) Brian Snitker, who was 60 when he became a big-league manager, is a patient man. Newcomb tested those limits.

He made his MLB debut on June 10, 2017. He went 6 ⅓ innings against the Mets, striking out seven and yielding one unearned run. He issued two walks. This was cause for celebration in a front office starved for good news. Newcomb had a big fastball (94 mph) and a big curve.

He held his place in the rotation the rest of that season and all of 2018. He started Game 3 of the 2018 NLDS against the Dodgers, lasting 2 ⅓ innings in the only game the Braves won. (He was relieved by Kevin Gausman, who lasted a year with the Braves but was an All-Star for San Francisco last season.

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A near no-hitter a highlight

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031422 North Port: Atlanta Braves pitcher Sean Newcomb reacts after a pitch from the practice mounds during team practice at Spring Training on Monday, March 14, 2022, in North Port. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”`

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

031422 North Port: Atlanta Braves pitcher Sean Newcomb reacts after a pitch from the practice mounds during team practice at Spring Training on Monday, March 14, 2022, in North Port.   “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”`

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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031422 North Port: Atlanta Braves pitcher Sean Newcomb reacts after a pitch from the practice mounds during team practice at Spring Training on Monday, March 14, 2022, in North Port. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”`

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

On July 29, 2018, Newcomb came within one strike of no-hitting those Dodgers, yielding a single to Chris Taylor on the day’s 134th pitch. Two pitches earlier, plate umpire Shane Livensparger deemed a 1-2 four-seamer a tad high.

Newcomb worked four scoreless innings in his first start of 2019. He walked four and needed 91 pitches to record 12 outs. He’d tied for third among National League pitchers in bases on balls the year before. In spring training, he walked 15 in 21 innings. On April 13, he was handed a 4-0 lead after an inning against the Mets. He managed one more out, that on a sacrifice fly. Snitker pulled him with the score tied.

After the game, Newcomb was informed he’d been sent to Gwinnett. He would return to the majors, though not as a starter. He became a full-time reliever, and seldom a high-leverage one. The Braves played 28 games in the 2020 and 2021 postseasons. Newcomb pitched in none of them.

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A final undoing

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April 10, 2021 Atlanta - Atlanta Braves catcher Travis d'Arnaud (16) and pitcher Sean Newcomb (15) share a smile in the 6th inning at Truist Park on Saturday, April 10, 2021. Atlanta Braves won 5-4 over Philadelphia Phillies. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

April 10, 2021 Atlanta - Atlanta Braves catcher Travis d'Arnaud (16) and pitcher Sean Newcomb (15) share a smile in the 6th inning at Truist Park on Saturday, April 10, 2021. Atlanta Braves won 5-4 over Philadelphia Phillies. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

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April 10, 2021 Atlanta - Atlanta Braves catcher Travis d'Arnaud (16) and pitcher Sean Newcomb (15) share a smile in the 6th inning at Truist Park on Saturday, April 10, 2021. Atlanta Braves won 5-4 over Philadelphia Phillies. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

A night that will be remembered for Freddie Freeman’s first home run against the Braves proved Newcomb’s final undoing. With the Dodgers leading 3-0, Freeman came to bat with two on and two out in the fourth. Snitker summoned Newcomb – lefty against lefty. Freeman walked on four pitches. Trea Turner hit a two-run double.

Snitker was asked afterward why he used Newcomb. His response: “As opposed to who?”

Loose translation: “We’re behind by three with five innings to go. If I can’t trust Newcomb there, why is he on my roster?”

The next day, Newcomb was removed from that roster. As Snitker told reporters in L.A.: “It’s just tough when you come in and have a four-pitch walk. He’s got the stuff to match up with Freddie. His stuff can match up against anybody. He’s just got to throw it over.”

The Cubs are rebuilding. They can afford to give a left-hander with no history of arm trouble a look. No matter what happens there, it was clear nothing else good would happen for Newcomb here. The Braves had waited long enough.

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The rebuild continues

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October 7, 2018 - Atlanta: Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Sean Newcomb gets high fives from teammates in the dugout in the third inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers during Game 3 of a National League Division Series baseball game Sunday, October 7, 2018, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton

October 7, 2018 - Atlanta: Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Sean Newcomb gets high fives from teammates in the dugout in the third inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers during Game 3 of a National League Division Series baseball game Sunday, October 7, 2018, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton

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October 7, 2018 - Atlanta: Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Sean Newcomb gets high fives from teammates in the dugout in the third inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers during Game 3 of a National League Division Series baseball game Sunday, October 7, 2018, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

At such a moment, a review of the Braves’ rebuild around arms seems germane. Max Fried is splendid. Ian Anderson has had splendid moments. Mike Soroka had one splendid season but has logged 13 ⅔ innings since 2019. Kyle Wright is second among NL pitchers in strikeouts. Kyle Muller is with Gwinnett. So, yet again, is Touki Toussaint.

Mike Foltynewicz is an unsigned free agent. Matt Wisler is on his seventh team since 2018. Aaron Blair is with the Wild Health Genomes, an independent minor-league team in Lexington, Ky. (Its slogan: “Baseball is in our DNA!”) Kolby Allard has a 10.38 ERA with the Rangers. Joey Wentz is a member of the Toledo Mud Hens. Luiz Gohara hasn’t pitched since 2018.

The rebuilders – general manager John Coppolella and president John Hart – knew not every pitcher they acquired would pan out. That’s why they acquired so many. That the Braves have, under new management, won their division four years running tells us the rebuild didn’t fail. There was a time, though, when Newcomb figured to be a chief reason it would succeed.

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