PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- In an odd way, the manager and the new man are quite compatible. As a manager, Willie Randolph seldom pinch-hits. The same can be said for new man David Newhan. He seldom has pinch-hit. What Newhan rarely has done in his career, Randolph rarely has asked anyone to do in his two years as manager. It's a perfect match.
In a two-negatives-make-a-positive way, Newhan may be only ideal for the job Randolph won't ask him to do very often.
Chances are Newhan will be the Mets' fifth outfielder. Endy Chavez is likely to appear in at least 100 games as the fourth outfielder and will be a regular who doesn't start. He'll enter games as a pinch-runner or with a reliever via double switches that will make him a defensive replacement -- for Shawn Green in right field and, more often, for Moises Alou in left -- not as a pinch-hitter. Neither as fleet nor as defensively-gifted, Newhan probably will enter in double switches and on occasion as a pinch-hitter.
Even with so many teams arming their bullpens with left-handed specialists, late innings still will be the domain of right-handed relievers. Enter Newhan, the left-handed hitter.
But how often will he enter? Randolph plays his starters deep into games as much as any manager and more than most. He recognizes the bench is a necessity, but the members of this collection of Mets regulars needs days off more than it needs late-game reinforcement. On any given day, any one of the eight position players is far more likely to go nine than any one of the members of the projected starting rotation.
For decades, National League managers pinch-hit for their middle infielders, their catchers and of course, their pitchers. But who from among the Mets' regulars needs pinch-hitters? Jose Reyes? Never. Jose Valentin? Only against a left-handed pitcher, and right-handed-hitting Damion Easley probably will be the man to take Valentin's place. Paul Lo Duca? Probably not.
With a bullpen sequence -- not yet established for 2007 -- in place, the pitcher's spot in the batting order is more likely to be re-filled via a double switch than a pinch-hitter. Moreover, should the Mets resume their practice of 2006 and score early, the need for pinch-hitting is likely to be reduced.
That's where Newhan comes in -- or doesn't come in. Randolph used the fewest pinch-hitters in the league each of the last two years. Just as well, Newhan is a veritable neophyte as a pinch-hitter. He has appeared in 293 Major League games in in six seasons but pinch-hit merely 33 times.
Compare that with Ed Kranepool, Rusty Staub, Mark Carreon, Matt Franco, Lenny Harris, Marlon Anderson and Julio Franco -- the Mets primary pinch-hitters then and now. Staub had 24 hits, not to mention 25 RBIs, as a pinch-hitter in one season, 1983. But the game has changed since then.
|Here's a year-by-year look at David Newhan's success as a pinch-hitter since his Major League debut.|
Still, Julio Franco had 66 pinch-hit plate appearances last season alone. And in 2005, Anderson's pinch-hits, 18, were only 10 fewer than Newhan's career pinch-hit at-bats. So it's hardly as though Newhan is the man most likely.
He recognizes that; still he has prepared himself generally by learning how, specifically, to prepare for a cameo appearance.
He watched and discussed the job with Mark Sweeney and John Vander Wal in 1999 when each was a Padres teammate. And he has tried to implement what he gleaned from them -- watching the game from the dugout for the first three or four innings, then watching video of the opponent's relievers, taking swings off a tee in the indoor batting cage and -- all the while -- managing.
"I don't want to be surprised when my manager needs me," Newhan says. "You stay in the game and try to be ready before Willie wants me. "[Pinch-hitting] isn't something I've done a lot in my career -- in the American League, you're not going to get up that much. But I'm going to embrace the role now."
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.