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Newman Waits for Ticket to Dance

MINOR LEAGUES

June 12, 2000|DAVE McKIBBEN

The shuffle off from Buffalo? If you haven't heard, it's the latest dance step to hit the shores of Lake Erie.

It's only June, and already eight Buffalo pitchers have been shuffled off to Cleveland. Alan Newman, a former La Habra High and Fullerton College pitcher, would like to shuffle, but so far he hasn't been asked to dance.

Essentially, that is the story of Newman's professional career.

Newman, a 30-year old left-handed reliever, is in his 13th year of professional baseball and he's with his eighth organization. He has spent only two months in a big league uniform. His big chance came last year with Tampa Bay when he made 18 appearances for the Devil Rays, compiling a 6.89 ERA in 15 2/3 innings with 20 strikeouts and nine walks.

Tampa Bay released Newman in December, but there were offers waiting from the New York Yankees, Montreal and Cleveland.

Newman said Cleveland was the easy choice.

"The Dodgers and the Indians were always my favorite teams," Newman said. "I've always liked the Indians' hats, the Chief Wahoo. And I liked to root for the underdog."

But there was a more practical reason Newman signed with Cleveland.

"The Indians needed lefties and with their history of injury problems, I figured I might get a chance," he said.

But when Newman was at his best--he was 1-0 with a 1.69 ERA in three April starts--Cleveland's staff was relatively healthy.

In May, just as Bartolo Colon, Paul Shuey, Jaret Wright, Charles Nagy and Ricardo Rincon were going down with injuries, Newman began to struggle. He was hit hard in the next two starts and a relief outing in which he replaced Colon, who was on a rehabilitation assignment.

"If my last three starts were like my first three, I think there's a good chance I'd have been called up," he said. "My timing was lousy."

Then, Newman went on the disabled list in late May with a shoulder injury.

But Newman (4-3, 4.05 ERA through Saturday) is pain-free again and back on the Bisons' active roster, looking for a chance to pitch in Jacobs Field.

"All it takes is a couple good outings," he said. "If you get a hot hand, they're going to ride it. I told our trainer, 'Just get me healthy so I can get myself in the mix.' "

Known for a nasty slider and a cut fastball, Newman (6 feet 4, 230 pounds) has added a straight changeup in the last year. The former second pick of the Twins in 1988 has lost a few miles an hour off a fastball once clocked in the mid-90s, but he has gained some perspective since spending three seasons with Alexandria (La.) in the independent Texas-Louisiana League.

"My approach is different now," he said. "Instead of trying to force everything, I just rely on my stuff. I always had the stuff, I had just never harnessed it all until the last few years."

WHO'S HOT

Craig Wilson, a 23-year-old first baseman from Huntington Beach High, had the first three-home run game of his professional career for the Nashville Pirates Tuesday in a 10-9 loss to the Tucson Sidewinders.

Lancaster first baseman Craig Kuzmic, from Cypress College, had four hits and three RBIs Wednesday in a 14-12 victory over Rancho Cucamonga.

PETER PERFECT

Former Capistrano Valley High pitcher Pete Zamora's perfect game Wednesday night for the Reading Phillies was the fifth in Eastern League history and the second in the minor leagues this season.

In Zamora's 6-0 victory over Harrisburg, he struck out four and induced seven ground-ball outs.

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