SAUGET — In Gateway Grizzlies pitcher Aaron Newcomb's mind, the second half of the Frontier League season will prove whether he's really an All-Star.
"It's a good honor to be selected to (the All-Star team), I just hope to be able to hold up my end and prove that I am an All-Star in the second half," said Newcomb, who will play for the West Division in the Frontier League All-Star Game at 7:05 p.m. Wednesday at GCS Ballpark. "I feel like I did that my first six or seven starts and then I kind of faded off."
Newcomb, 24, a Centralia High School graduate who now lives in Carlyle, has a 7-2 record with a 4.47 ERA this season for the Grizzlies.
He won seven of his first eight starts, but he has been knocked around in his last two outings. He's given up six earned runs in each of his last two starts, and he lasted only 1 2/3 innings in his last trip to the mound.
"I'm trying to get back to what I was doing those first 4-5-6 starts," Newcomb said. "I've hit kind of a rough patch of late. I'm just trying to find out what I was doing the first half. Was I thinking something different? Maybe my focus is a little lackluster now. Just trying to work out the kinks and get back on a roll that I had at the start."
Grizzlies manager Phil Warren said Newcomb just needs to get back to trusting the skills that made him an All-Star.
"Pitching is no different than hitting, there are ups and downs or slumps, if you will, and for Aaron, at times I don't know if he is out there really trusting his stuff," Warren said. "He is trying to be so fine instead of trusting the work he puts in and the quality of pitches he does have and letting them work."
Newcomb has struck out 33 batters and walked 25 batters in 56 1/3 innings of work. Eleven of those walks have come in the 6-foot-3 right-hander's last three games.
"Early on, when Aaron was very successful, he was in a lot of 1-2 counts at the plate," Warren said. "It's kind of changed. Now he's in 2-1 counts a lot. Hitters are ahead of him a lot. Dissecting that, obviously strike one becomes huge there. He hasn't been wild, wild. I know the walks are higher than normal for him and some things aren't working out. He's just a little too fine right now. It's an adjustment he is going to have to make, and having success the next time out will feed his confidence and I think he'll be fine. He's a good pitcher and this team needs him to win every time he is out there."
Having grown up in Centralia, Newcomb is well aware of former major leaguers Gary Gaetti and Brian Dinkelman.
Gaetti was a third baseman who played 20 years in the major leagues, including a stint with the St. Louis Cardinals (1996-98). He was a two-time All-Star.
Dinkelman was a second baseman and outfielder who played in 23 games for the Minnesota Twins in 2011.
"I don't know Gary Gaetti personally, but I've heard nothing but good stuff about him," Newcomb said. "I'm actually pretty good friends with Dinkelman. We used to work out in the offseason together. I could pick his brain as a hitter and see what he looks for. I think that kind of helped me on the mental side of it."
Newcomb was a first team All-South Seven Conference selection as a senior at Centralia High, but he wasn't a highly touted college recruit.
"I wasn't that good in high school, to be honest," Newcomb said. "I made All-Conference honors and everything, but I wasn't anything to brag home about. I was a mid-80's guy. No draft pick. Out of high school, I was just glad to get a scholarship, and then once college hit, that's when I blossomed."
Newcomb went to Olney Central Community College, where he was 1-3 with a 2.36 ERA in seven appearances as a freshman.
It was during Newcomb's sophomore season for the Blue Knights that everything started clicking for him.
Newcomb posted a 9-3 record with a 4.20 ERA as sophomore. His performance earned him a scholarship to Delta State University.
Newcomb won 18 games in his two seasons at Delta State. As a senior, he won a team-leading 11 games and helped lead the Statesmen to a runner-up finish in the Division II World Series.
Newcomb didn't pitch in Delta State's 9-0 loss to West Chester in the championship game.
"I wanted to, I wanted to get out there so bad," I started the second or third game against (Minnesota State) Mankato. I pitched the first night against St. Mary's in relief. We had a rain delay and I came in after our starter and then I started that third game. I really wanted to be in that championship game, but my coach wouldn't put me in. I think I would have been on a day's rest after a start, but I did it in the regionals. I felt good to do it again."
Despite his success, Newcomb wasn't expecting to be taken in the 2012 MLB Draft.
He was out on the golf course when he got the call that he'd been taken in the 19th round by the Los Angeles Angels.
"I actually didn't know if I was going to get drafted or not," Newcomb said. "I hadn't really talked with anybody. I had one phone call from the (Chicago) White Sox and I had letters from the Angels and the (San Francisco) Giants saying that I was on their board and if everything kind of fell right, they'd take me. I was lucky to get the phone call, and I was pretty excited when it happened."
Newcomb went 3-1 with a 4.85 ERA in 15 games, including seven starts, for Angels' rookie affiliate Orem (Utah) in 2012, but struggled to a 1-4 record with a 6.24 ERA in 12 games, including eight starts, for Class A Burlington (Iowa) before being released in 2013.
"Rookie ball, I had a pretty good season locating and then I got to Burlington I had a couple of good starts and then it just kind of fell apart from there," Newcomb said. "I couldn't find the strike zone with my offspeed stuff, so I had to throw fastballs more. I started to get hit around, and I kind of knew it was a red flag when I got moved to the bullpen and I didn't throw for a little bit there. I knew it was crunch time and that if I didn't start performing I would be sitting at home, and within a month I was sitting at home."
Newcomb completed his degree in graphic design at Delta State, and he was looking for full-time work when the Grizzlies called him this spring.
Newcomb said he has always loved to draw.
"For me, I'd love to be an illustrator of some sorts or a logo designer," he said. "That's kind of the big things I'd like to get into. They are both really hard fields to get into. There is always somebody who can match your talent level. It's just a matter of your style fitting that company."
Newcomb would love to get another shot with a major league affiliate, but he also is excited about pursuing a career in art.
"Don't get me wrong, everybody is kind of hoping (that), but if I didn't and we ended up winning a championship, that would be fine, too," Newcomb said. "It's always fun winning no matter what team you are on. It's a good group of guys here. It's fun to be around them all. If I don't get picked up, it's possibly my last season. We'll just have to see what happens next spring. I would just rather focus on my second career with art."
Contact reporter Steve Korte at email@example.com or 239-2522.