A new workout regimen appears to be paying off for the outfielder.

O's Newhan makes a strong showing

March 16, 2006|By CHILDS WALKER | CHILDS WALKER,SUN REPORTER

Fort Lauderdale, Fla. -- You can't show your wares to a new city much better than Orioles outfielder David Newhan did in 2004.

A homer in his first outing, five four-hit games, four positions played. How had this guy become a journeyman in the first place?

But you also can't crash much harder than Newhan did in his second season with the Orioles. He batted .202, was sent to Triple-A Ottawa twice and irritated management at times with his complaints about not playing.

When he left Baltimore at the end of the year, neither he nor manager Sam Perlozzo knew if he'd ever return as an Oriole.

Newhan did not approach his tenuous situation idly.

In addition to his offseason weightlifting regimen, he embraced the Egoscue workout method, which focuses on building core body strength through stretching, low-stress exercises and yoga. Other athletes who've trained this way include NFL linebacker Junior Seau and safety John Lynch and San Diego Padres stars Dave Roberts, Mark Loretta (now with the Boston Red Sox) and Trevor Hoffman.

"They're really good workouts that translate directly to sports movements more than just lifting," Newhan said. "A lot of jumping and agility work. I think it's the way of the future."

Newhan returned to Fort Lauderdale with springier legs and his line-drive stroke reborn. He has hit .435 with a home run in 23 at-bats this spring.

"He's in phenomenal shape this year," said hitting coach Terry Crowley. "He's really quick. All his actions are really quick. It's easy to see that he dedicated the winter to getting ready to have the best possible spring training."

Perlozzo said that if he had to make the decision today, Newhan would make the team.

"David's always been the kind of player he's playing like this spring," Perlozzo said. "He's a smart guy, and I think he knows he did not put together the kind of year necessary to make this club."

Newhan said he's feeling good.

"I know what I can do," he said. "I just need to stay on top of the ball and hit line drives."

With a wiry frame and sharply cut features, Newhan looks youthful. But he's 32 and entering his 12th season in pro ball. He has shuttled from majors to minors since 1999, mixing good seasons with bad.

He lacks certain advantages compared to his fellow outfielders.

He doesn't have the cut-from-granite physique of Corey Patterson.

The ball doesn't crack off his bat like it does off those of Jay Gibbons and Nick Markakis.

His resume isn't as long or consistent as Jeff Conine's.

But Newhan may be the most versatile of the bunch. He has played all three outfield spots, first base, second base and third base in the majors.

That flexibility was among the first things that charmed Orioles fans after the team signed Newhan as a free agent in June 2004. His hitting did the rest.

He had been batting .328 in Triple-A and got hotter when he reached the big leagues. He hit .311 and slugged .453 in 95 games as a virtual regular. He was perhaps the most pleasant surprise in another mediocre season.

Newhan had a virtually guaranteed job entering last spring. "I might have been a little jaded," he said. "I might have thought that all I had to do was keep healthy and see pitches, and I would get used."

He envisioned himself as a super utility player like the Los Angeles Angels' Chone Figgins, a guy who'd get 400 at-bats at three or four positions.

But former manager Lee Mazzilli did not use Newhan consistently as the team jumped to a hot start. "I got a little lost early," Newhan said.

"Two years ago, he came in from the minor leagues where he was already in the swing of things and real hot," Crowley said. "Then last year, he was not getting too much playing time at the beginning of the season. I think ... he felt like he was playing catch-up the whole season."

Newhan complained when he was demoted to Triple-A Ottawa, saying he shouldn't have been buried under outfielder Jeff Fiorentino, who had been called up from Single-A.

"I didn't handle it right," he said.

He said he understood his role more clearly once Perlozzo replaced Mazzilli. But Newhan still wasn't swinging well. He kept getting under balls he had stroked for line drives in 2004.

Not this spring. From batting practice to early game action, Newhan has sprayed the ball sharply. He's also faster. He showed that Tuesday when he raced to the right-field line to snare a rapidly sinking fly.

Newhan said he will react better this year if he has to ride the bench for a stretch. "I've got a clear head whether I get five at-bats or 500," he said.

"I think it would be foolish for me to not think I have a chance to start," he added. "But will I be [angry] and disappointed if I don't? No."

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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