Braves’ Newcomb looks to stay hot versus Marlins

MIAMI — Left-hander Sean Newcomb celebrated his 25th birthday Saturday. On Sunday — Mother’s Day — he would like to continue his 2018 trend in which he is emerging as perhaps the Atlanta Braves‘ best starting pitcher.

Newcomb (3-1, 2.88 ERA) will challenge the host Miami Marlins and their starter, right-hander Jose Urena, who is looking for his first victory of 2018.

Newcomb, a 6–foot-5, 255-pounder, has won his past two starts, both on the road, combining to pitch 13 scoreless innings and allowing two hits in each game.

The last Braves pitcher to pitch two consecutive scoreless games of at least six innings while allowing two hits or less was … wait for it … four-time Cy Young Award winner Greg Maddux in 1999.

Newcomb said there is a reason for his success.

“My changeup has kept guys off the fastball,” Newcomb told the media. “That makes my fastball play up. It has helped my curve, too.”

Newcomb this season leads all Braves starting pitchers in ERA. He has been even better in his past six starts, posting a 1.98 ERA.

Newcomb, a Massachusetts native, did not sign with a college baseball power, choosing Hartford. But he made a name for himself as a freshman, throwing a no-hitter against Yale for his first collegiate victory.

As a junior, he was named the America East Pitcher of the Year, going 8-2 with an incredible 1.25 ERA. In fact, he started the season on a streak of 39 2/3 scoreless innings.

That led to him being a first-round pick — No. 15 overall — by the Los Angeles Angels. In November of 2015, the Braves sent star young shortstop Andrelton Simmons — now a three-time Gold Glove winner — to the Angels in a trade that brought back Newcomb as the main piece.

Newcomb went 4-9 with a 4.32 ERA last year, including 0-1, 4.91 in his only two career starts versus Miami. So far this season, Newcomb is starting to make the trade look a little bit more equal.

As for the Marlins, Urena (0-5, 4.37 ERA) has suffered all five of his losses at home. His ERA at Marlins Park is solid at 3.86, suggesting there has been an element of bad luck for Miami’s Opening Day starter, who was 14-7 last season.

For his career, Urena’s win-loss record doesn’t really mesh with his ERA. At home, he is 7-19 with a 4.03 ERA. On the road, he is 12-7 with a 5.52 ERA. Urena is 2-3 with a 5.54 ERA in 10 games (seven starts) versus the Braves.

Urena will face an Atlanta lineup that is second in the National League in runs scored. The Braves have won two of the first three games in this series, including Saturday’s 10-5 victory.

The lineup includes Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman, who produced the first five-hit game of his career Thursday and followed that up by slugging two home runs on Saturday, going 3-for-4 with three runs scored and three RBIs.

Atlanta forced Marlins relievers to throw 56 pitches in the eighth inning, snapping a 5-5 tie with two bases-loaded walks. Atlanta drew four walks in the frame — all with two strikes — and that patient approach makes Atlanta even more dangerous.

If the Braves get to Urena early, Miami’s bullpen will have to do more work than usual, and the Marlins feature three flamethrowers in Tayron Guerrero, Kyle Barraclough and Drew Steckenrider.

“They all have power stuff,” Marlins closer Brad Ziegler told the media. “That’s a huge plus. Hitters are uncomfortable in their at-bats against these guys.”