Newman's sprint a silver lining, but ends in final out

July 9th, 2022

MILWAUKEE -- On the bright side, at least the Pittsburgh Pirates know that Kevin Newman's leg is at full strength.

Hours after returning to the lineup for the first time since April, the infielder tried to score what would have been the game-tying run from first base on Daniel Vogelbach's single. But Milwaukee catcher Victor Caratini was waiting for him at home plate to apply the tag, snuffing out a potential rally against the most formidable closer in baseball and closing the book on a 4-3 loss to the Brewers on Friday night at American Family Field.

"That's what I was just saying to the trainers," said Newman, who'd missed 66 games after suffering a hamstring injury while rehabbing the left groin strain that landed him on the IL in the first place. "First to home and I’m good, so that’s a good sign."

So, too, was Newman's performance in the infield. He wasn’t at shortstop, where he had started 13 games this season before the injuries and 270 of his 328 career starts. Instead, manager Derek Shelton put Newman at second base Friday, with rookie Oneil Cruz starting at short for the 17th time this season.

And, as tends to happen in baseball, Newman didn't have to wait long to get tested: Christian Yelich led off the bottom of the first inning by ripping a ground ball 109 mph right at him. Newman scooped it up and tossed to first for the out.

It was the kind of play Newman was expecting in his first game back -- but also, exactly the kind of play starting pitcher has come to expect from Newman, a Gold Glove finalist last season.

"I looked at him and I said, ‘Welcome back!’" Brubaker said. "That’s how baseball works. I have all the confidence in the world with him."

So, too, does Shelton, who plans to use Newman at both second and short for the time being.

"Just like with everything else, it depends on the matchup and the situation," Shelton said. "Over the course of the next 11 days, or whatever it is, we play a lot of games consecutively in three different time zones. So we'll just kind of mix and match."

While Newman held his own defensively, he went hitless in his first three at-bats Friday. He snapped out of that funk with a one-out single in the ninth that put runners at the corners against Milwaukee closer Josh Hader.

After Hader got the second out of the inning by striking out Cruz, Vogelbach worked the count even at 2-2 before sending a slider just short of the warning track in deep right-center field, scoring Diego Castillo to make it a 4-3 game.

Former Pirate Andrew McCutchen charged and fielded the ball as Newman got to third, where third-base coach Mike Rabelo was waving him home. Willy Adames hauled in McCutchen's throw and fired the relay to Caratini, catching Newman surprisingly, almost shockingly, easily.

"I figured maybe they kicked it, or something happened out there," Newman said. "My back is to the plate, so I’m kind of just going off what I see.”

Shelton said afterward that his view of the play was similar to Rabelo's, and that he had no problem with the aggressive send, especially considering the difficulty of mounting a rally against a pitcher of Hader's caliber.

"Mike has done a nice job over there at third, and he’s made good decisions all year long,” Shelton said. “He got aggressive because of where he saw the throw coming out of [McCutchen’s] hand but it ended up coming down, and Willy made a good throw to the plate."