Newman in battle for SS job

Spring training diary

BRADENTON, Fla, — Kevin Newman is the kind of guy you root for — pleasant, quiet, respectful.

Few positions on the Pirates are open this season. Shortstop is one of them, though, and Newman is in a spring-training battle with Erik Gonzalez for the job vacated by Jordy Mercer, now a Detroit Tiger.

Newman, 25, a California native, played at the University of Arizona and was the Pirates’ first-round draft pick in 2015. Gonzalez, 27, came to the Bucs from the Indians in an off-season trade that sent Max Moroff and Jordan Luplow to the Tribe.

Newman made his major-league debut last season but batted only .209 in 31 games (91 at-bats) for the Bucs. Gonzalez played parts of two seasons with Cleveland in a backup role and hit 263 in 262 at-bats.

“There’s been a lot of talk and speculation (about the shortstop job) but I really don’t focus on that,” Newman said recently at LECOM Park. “I came in with the same mentality I had last year and the year before.

“I just came in to get ready for the season,” he said. “I’m just going about my day and trying to get better and better. After that, everything will take care of itself.”

Newman and Gonzalez have been splitting starts so far, but neither has been lighting up Grapefruit League pitchers. Newman was hitting only .182 in his first nine games, Gonzalez was at .120 in 10 starts.

Newman finally had a day Thursday. In a 11-2 win over the Phillies, Newman went 3-for-4 with a single, double, homer (his first), two runs scored and three RBIs. He also stole a base.

Newman played parts of two seasons with the Curve and credits Joey Cora for a lot of his improvement.

“My first year in Altoona, Joey was there (as manager),” Newman offered. “He’s an awesome dude. I’ve learned a lot from him. He really helped me in Altoona and last year when I was in the major leagues. He’s taught me so much about playing the infield.”

Newman thinks the Bucs can have a good 2019 season.

“We’ve got a pretty young club,” he noted, “but we’re pretty solid. The clubhouse is awesome. We’ve got a veteran presence and you feel like you can go up and talk to anyone and ask them about anything. There are no cliques or nobody that you can’t approach. You’ve got a question, go ahead and ask – player or coach.

“Personally, I’m just trying to be a better baseball player every day — in all aspects of the game,” he said. “I’m not content with anything I do. I always strive to get better in little ways every day.”

Autographs

Signing cards for Jean and Joan were Francisco Cervelli and Adam Frazier of the Pirates, Michael Reed, C.J. Cron, Rocco Baldelli, Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco of the Twins and Aaron Altherr and Maikel Franco of the Phillies.

Enjoying the sun

Friends and neighbors seen at the ballpark recently: Terry and Molly Goldstein, Bob Allen, Phil and Paula Hall, Matthew Wyland (son of former WTAJ sports director Rodger Wyland) and John Turner (my college roommate).

Taste of home

Curve owners Bob Lozinak and Sal Baglieri hosted a dinner at Pier 22 for Curve coaches and some front office personnel. Manager Michael Ryan and coaches John Nunnally and Joel Hanrahan were there, as well as general manager Derek Martin, public relations/radio announcer Garrett Mansfield and team doctor Jay Robinson.

Other recent dining stops included Caddy’s at the Pointe, Peach’s, Metro Diner and Applebee’s.

Remembering Mehno

Like many, I was stunned at the passing of John Mehno.

I first met him while covering the Steelers many years ago. He was a talented writer and no one covered a locker room better. Simply the best!

RIP, John.

Until next week …

Lane, a retired sports editor of the Mirror, writes from Florida in February and March.

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