Newhan cranks up utility energy

O's will find spot for him, it's just question of which one for versatile standout

March 18, 2005|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

JUPITER, Fla. - The orange coloring in David Newhan's uniform has a tendency to spread beyond the letters. It can run from his upper chest to his knees, the bright dirt clinging to him like a scared child.

It isn't enough that the Orioles keep shifting him from one position to the next. It looks as though they're also using him to drag the infield.

Newhan is prepared to do anything these days, his duties always expanding. He started in right field on Tuesday, but ended the game at first base. He's been chasing fly balls in left field and center, scooping up grounders at second.

Just don't ask him to pitch or he'll jog to the bullpen.

"I've spent a lot of time everywhere," he said.

Starting at first base on Wednesday, Newhan opened the game with a single, stole second and scored in the Orioles' 7-5 loss to Los Angeles Dodgers in Vero Beach. He was in left field yesterday, again atop the order, and doubled in the first inning against the St. Louis Cardinals before rain caused a stoppage in the third.

Back in November, vice president Mike Flanagan envisioned Newhan as an extra outfielder, his placement on the 25-man roster a foregone conclusion. Manager Lee Mazzilli also stated this winter that Newhan wasn't competing for a spot.

But how will the club use him?

With doubts still existing over Luis Matos' ability to stay healthy, Newhan has been given some starts in center field - a position he hadn't played since the Single-A level, with limited exposure. He's also viewed as a viable backup to second baseman Brian Roberts, who missed his 10th game yesterday with a strained right shoulder.

Newhan's handled both corner outfield spots and can be used at shortstop and third base. If there's a need, he's likely to fill it, just as he did twice at first last season.

"He was a shot in the arm for us last year," executive vice president Jim Beattie said of Newhan, who batted .311 in 95 games after signing as a free agent in June.

"He runs well, he's very athletic. It helps a lot."

Playing for his seventh organization, Newhan became a journeyman before ever leaving the college ranks. He attended Cypress (Calif.) Junior College in 1992 before transferring to Georgia Tech, where the shortstop position already was occupied by someone named Nomar Garciaparra. Stuck at first base, he moved on to Pepperdine and hit .313 in 103 career games.

Looking back on his days with the Yellow Jackets, Newhan recalls how taking throws from across the infield, instead of making them, didn't suit a player who measured 5 feet 9.

"I was like, `I'm not going to get drafted here. Look at my size,'" said Newhan, 31, who later was selected by the Oakland Athletics in the 17th round as an outfielder. "I didn't leave there because I wasn't playing. I played a lot there, almost every day."

Newhan would don the catching gear and take grounders at first from his coach at Cypress. Bad hops were a given, but they couldn't be used as an excuse.

"I feel fine over there," he said. "I've put in a lot of work."

The Orioles aren't likely to need him at first, not with Jay Gibbons, Rafael Palmeiro and B.J. Surhoff on the roster. They're more interested in how he adapts to center field, just in case Matos slumps or goes down with another injury.

"I think he looks pretty comfortable. He just needs experience out there," Beattie said. "I don't know if he has the experience to take all the routes that he needs, but he throws well and runs well.

"If you put him somewhere, he's not going to hurt you."

And he's not going to be offended by the constant moving. It's a job he's come to accept - starter's production without the title.

"I've never really had a home," he said. "I kind of did coming up through the minors once I moved over to second, but I was playing all the outfield positions.

"I always thought I could help a team by doing this."

When Phil Nevin got hurt or needed a rest in San Diego, Newhan replaced him at third. If Tony Gwynn wasn't in the lineup, Newhan might go to right field. Shortstop appealed to him early, but he wasn't going to bump Miguel Tejada in Oakland or Jimmy Rollins in Philadelphia.

"I enjoy playing the outfield now that I've been back out there. I feel comfortable. But I'm not going to be bashful. I want to be in the lineup, so if it's not there, hopefully it can be somewhere else," he said.

"When you have 25 guys and you're carrying 12 pitches and two catchers, you have a limited bench. You need a guy who can do this."

Orioles today

Opponent: Minnesota Twins

Site: Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Time: 1:05 p.m.

Radio: 7:05 p.m., 1090 AM (tape)

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