This Buc is on pace to shatter a ST record

Kuhl goes two in final spring start; Fowler gets look at first; RHP Bashlor optioned to Triple-A

March 27th, 2021

Kevin Newman has been refusing to make outs this spring, and it’s reaching historic levels.

After going 3-for-4 with a double in Saturday’s 7-4 loss to the Red Sox in seven innings, Newman’s batting average has inflated to an incredible .714 mark.

Official Spring Training stats only go back as far as 2006, but Newman is on pace to shatter the current record in that span for batting average in a full spring season, which is currently held by Todd Linden (.586 in 2008).

Of course, a meteoric mark like Newman’s doesn’t come without some luck and some help. In the first inning, he didn’t make great contact, breaking his bat on a ball to shallow right field that dropped in over the first baseman. Then, his double in the fourth inning hit off the top of Alex Verdugo’s glove in center field.

“Yeah, that’s sometimes how it goes,” Newman said earlier this spring. “You get a couple good hops here and there. I’m sure later in the season I’ll line out five times in a row and not see a base hit. That’s just kind of how it is.”

Newman’s success has also been driven by a refusal to strike out. In 34 plate appearances this spring, he hasn’t struck out once. Though he has no chance of catching the leader for most consecutive Spring Training plate appearances without a strikeout since 2006 (Alberto Callaspo with 72 in ‘09), he’s eighth on the list.

“Whatever he’s eating and drinking, we need to bottle it up and take it with us,” manager Derek Shelton said.

New dad back in action
Chad Kuhl returned to camp this week after he and his wife, Amanda, had a baby boy, Hudson, last Friday.

“It went about as smooth as it possibly could have gone,” Kuhl said. “My wife was absolutely amazing. They're both healthy and happy. Everybody is doing good.”

Saturday marked Kuhl’s first start back from his leave and the final start of spring as he gets ready for the new season. He went only two innings vs. the Red Sox, allowing one run on one hit with two walks and two strikeouts, but he finished his day with two innings on the back field to stay stretched out.

“A little out of sync, but got in a stretch, got a pop out and a strikeout there to finish it to kind of recapture what I had going in that first inning,” Kuhl said of his start. “I feel good, just knocking some rust off.”

With the regular season starting in just five days, Kuhl is a candidate to be the Opening Day starter for the Pirates. Shelton said he hopes he and the pitching staff can finalize the Opening Day starter decision in the next 24-48 hours.

“Obviously, it’s an honor to look across the league and see all of these big name guys who are getting the ball on Opening Day,” Kuhl said. “It’s a fun day. It’s an honor. But whoever gets it, they’re going to be more than deserving.”

Worth noting
Dustin Fowler is in competition for the job in center field, but the Pirates threw him in at an odd position for an outfielder on Thursday: First base.

Shelton said the Pirates had an infielder-outfielder day this week, when the two sets of fielders trade spots and work on versatility. He said Fowler stood out among the group.

“He was really natural there,” Shelton said. “Led to a conversation [about how] last year at the alternate [training] site he had done it with the A’s. We talked to him about it a little bit and just thought we'd throw him out there and see in the back half of the game how comfortable he was.”

• Right-hander Tyler Bashlor was optioned to Triple-A after Thursday’s game. The reliever was set back in camp due to some back tightness.

The Pirates’ Spring Training roster is now at 35 players.

• Shelton began his press conference on Saturday by offering his condolences to the family of Mike Bell, who passed away on Friday at the age of 46 from cancer. Bell was the Twins' bench coach after Shelton left the post to become the Pirates' manager.

"Mike was a friend of mine. I worked with Buddy in Cleveland, his father," Shelton said. "He left three children. It’s a sad day. It’s a sad day for baseball. It’s a sad day for the Twins organization and a sad day for the Bell family, and I want to offer my condolences."

Up next
The Pirates will take the short bus ride to Sarasota to face the Orioles on Sunday, with first pitch scheduled for 1:05 p.m. ET. Mitch Keller will draw his last start of Spring Training as he enters his first full 162-game season. Michael Feliz, Sam Howard, Luis Oviedo and Edgar Santana are set to follow Keller in the pitching order. Righty Matt Harvey will go for Baltimore, and the game will be live on MLB Audio and 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh.