“Roar Jinx” shelves Nehwan; In his place, Markakis should play every day, Millar should bat second
by Christopher Heun
Just when we were ready to sing the praises of outfielder David Newhan, hopeful that he could recapture some of his 2004 magic as a catalyst at the top of the lineup, he broke his right fibula Monday night when he caught his ankle on second base after a steal.
He’ll miss at least two months. I’ve heard of the Sports Illustrated jinx, but maybe there’s some bad mojo connected to Roar from 34, too. Of all the people mentioned recently in this space, let’s hope the next victim is Jeffrey Maier rather than Melvin Mora.
Luis Matos – whose name had not been mentioned here yet – followed Newhan on the disabled list Wednesday, but that doesn’t count. He gets hurt every year. Suddenly, the game of musical chairs the Orioles were conducting in the outfield at the beginning of the season now has two fewer players.
But regardless of whether or not manager Sam Perlozzo can write his name into the lineup for the next two months, we’re going to praise Newhan anyway.
He had to battle in spring training just to make the team after coming out of nowhere –Oklahoma City to be precise – in 2004 to hit .311 with eight homers and 54 RBIs in just over half a season. Before then, he hadn’t appeared in a major league game in more than two years, and his career in The Show had amounted to just 86 at bats.
Newhan smacked a 435-foot pinch-hit home run in his first at-bat with the O’s and never looked back, hitting safely in his first 15 games and 31 of 33, batting over .400 for nearly two months. He finished second in the American League with five four-hit games. Not quite Roy Hobbs, but close.
He slumped, though, during the final 34 games, hitting just .233. Last year, playing only part time, he couldn’t find a consistent stroke. He was sent down to Triple-A Ottawa twice and finished the year hitting .202.
His chances didn’t look so good this off-season, either, when the front office decided to sign as many guys as it could to solve the hole in left field. First Jeff Conine and Kevin Millar, then Jeromy Burnitz, who it thought it had under contract until he backed out of the deal, and finally Richard Hidalgo, who they invited to spring training. After a couple days, he changed his mind too, although unlike Burnitz, who’s now with the Pirates (and batting .246), he is not on a major league roster.
Meanwhile, my Dad (and a lot of other people, too) were yelling for Newhan.
Perlozzo came around. Before his injury, Newhan had started eight out of nine games and was getting on base consistently, stealing three bases. Along with rookie Nick Markakis, another pleasant surprise, two-thirds of the Orioles outfield had come from the most unlikely of places. The Sun’s John Eisenberg noticed, too: “Newhan, Markakis are outfield answer.”
“He’s swinging the bat, hustling, giving us a little energy, sparking us a little bit,” Perlozzo said of Newhan last week. “He’s really done enough, for me, to be playing.”
Newhan’s injury leaves a hole in the No. 2 spot in the lineup. Conine batted there (and took Newhan’s spot in left field) the first two nights and even though he has struggled early this season, he’s probably best suited for the role. Kevin Millar is another option; he knows how to work the count, his lifetime on-base percentage (.365) is slightly better than Conine’s (.350) and he also has a little more power.
The truth is, neither one of them should be playing every day. They’d make an excellent bench; the problem is there’s nobody better to play ahead of them. They still get on base more frequently than either Matos (.316 lifetime on-base percentage) or Corey Patterson (.293). Markakis, 22, who never played above Double-A before this season, is the wild card. It might be too much to expect him to hit second, but he should be playing every day. Otherwise, there’s no point in having him on the big league club.
Both he and Patterson are left-handed hitters, so they should start against righty pitchers. Let Conine hit against lefties. When Markakis is in the lineup, Millar should bat second.
This is all a lot easier to figure out, unfortunately, because Newhan and Matos are injured.