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Just One Step Away : Phil Nevin Is Doing Well at Triple-A Tucson; His Move Up to Houston Seems Right on Schedule

July 10, 1993|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Older teammates such as Jim Lindeman, Tucson's 31-year-old first baseman, have been a settling influence on Nevin. Lindeman, who played for the St. Louis Cardinals, Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies, has become something of a big brother or guidance counselor to Nevin.

"He's pretty intense, just like I was when I was younger," Lindeman said. "It took me a long time to learn not to take every (bad) at-bat to heart, but I don't think Phil will have a problem doing that.

"Phil has all the tools and a great attitude. He doesn't worry too much about stats or what other people think of him. He just needs to learn to concentrate and take what pitchers give him. He's only 22 and in triple-A. That's a big jump, and not many can make it."

Some thought Nevin would make the jump from college right to the big leagues. Nevin had an impressive spring training with the Astros, batting about .350 with good power, and nearly hit his way onto the opening-day roster.

But with Ken Caminiti established at third base, Nevin would have spent most of the time on the bench, which would have impeded his progress.

"Phil stacked up real well, but it wouldn't have been an intelligent decision (to start him in the major leagues)," Nelson said. "But it was tremendous for him not only to compete at that level but for our staff to see how he could compete, what made him tick."

Caminiti, in the first year of a three-year contract, appears to have third locked up, but Houston's left-handed-hitting outfield of Luis Gonzalez, Steve Finley and Eric Anthony leaves the Astros vulnerable against left-handed pitchers.

In an effort to better position Nevin for a major league job and get some right-handed power in the outfield, the Astros have instructed Sweet to play Nevin in left field, where he has about 10 starts this season. Nevin had never played outfield in his life.

"It's a lot tougher than people think," Nevin said. "It's not a reaction position like the infield. You have to wait and get the proper read on the ball, then get to it. I take balls out there during batting practice every day, and I feel like I'm doing fine there."

Nevin hasn't made any errors in the outfield, and Sweet believes he has enough natural ability to play the position in the major leagues.

"He has played outfield better than we've anticipated," Nelson said. "To expect Phil to go to left field, take balls slicing away from him in the corner, figure out at the warning track whether it's time to challenge the wall, those things aren't easy. But he's done quite well. If we felt that was his ticket to the majors, a crash course would be all he'd need."

Nevin, like all his minor league brethren, has no idea when that ticket will come. But he's confident it will come, and when it does, he wants it to be a one-way ride.

"I'll be there some day--it's just a matter of time," Nevin said. "I'd like to be there now, of course, but I have to be patient. And I don't want to bounce back and forth, go up for 10 days, down for 10. I'd like to get there and stay there."

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