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MINOR LEAGUE NOTEBOOK / MARTIN BECK : Time On Mound Taming Newman

For a pitcher who rarely stood on the mound in high school, Alan Newman has come a long way.

In June, three years after pitching sporadically for La Habra High School, Newman started for the North Division in the Class A Midwest League all-star game.

“Sometimes I still step back and say, ‘Wow, I’m doing something a lot of people don’t get to do,’ ” Newman said. “It’s shocking sometimes. But most of the time I try to take it for what it is.”

Earlier this month, Newman was moved to the Twins’ Class A California League team in Visalia after 1 1/2 years at Kenosha. The move is considered a promotion because the California League is believed to be a more competitive league than the Midwest.

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In 22 games for Kenosha, Newman was 10-4 with a 1.64 earned-run average. In 154 innings, he had 158 strikeouts and 78 walks.

Those are the kind of results the Twins must have expected when they picked Newman in the second round of the 1988 baseball draft after his freshman season at Fullerton College. As a 6-foot-6, 220-pound left-handed pitcher, Newman attracted attention even when his statistics weren’t impressive.

Despite pitching in only five or six games in high school, Newman was picked by the Padres in the 25th round. Surprised by the professional interest in his pitching but not impressed with what the pros were offering, Newman decided to learn how to pitch better in college. So he went to Fullerton, where he became the team’s ace short reliever. He appeared in 21 games and 32 1/3 innings, striking out 49 and walking 34.

Five of those walks and three wild pitches came in the only game he started for Fullerton, a South Coast Conference game near the end of the season. Cerritos won, 3-0, but Newman, who allowed three hits, wasn’t involved in the decision.

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His wildness was something he and his Fullerton coaches tried to minimize.

“If you epitomize the wild pitcher kind of like ‘Nuke’ LaLouch in (the movie) ‘Bull Durham,’ with pitches hitting the backstop, that wasn’t Alan,” Fullerton Coach Nick Fuscardo said. “Alan was wild in the strike zone with good movement on the ball. Once he was able to utilize that strength, he started to put things together.”

But in his first professional season with the Twins’ Appalachian League team in Elizabethton, Tenn., he continued to be erratic. The Twins were determined to make him a starter; he was hoping to be the next Goose Gossage.

“I liked the adrenaline flowing when you come in at the end of a game and throw your fastball past people,” Newman said. “You don’t have to hold back as a reliever.”

As a starter for Elizabethton, he was 2-8 with an 8.13 ERA, allowing 57 hits, 52 runs, 56 walks and striking out 51 in 55 innings. But he pitched complete games in his final two starts of the season after putting things into perspective.

“I just decided that it didn’t matter,” Newman said. “Whatever happened, it couldn’t get much worse. I just relaxed and everything worked out pretty good.”

Last season, more accustomed to being a starter, Newman went 3-9 with a 2.84 ERA, striking out 82 and walking 74 in 89 innings. However, in April he missed almost a month of the season with a pulled rib cage muscle and then missed another six weeks with tendinitis in his pitching arm.

This season, he returned to Kenosha healthy and dominated the Midwest League batters, allowing four fewer walks than in 1989 in 65 more innings pitched.

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However, it seems that his new-found control hasn’t joined him in Visalia yet.

In two starts for Visalia, Newman has walked 11 batters. In his first start, in which he pitched six innings of a seven-inning game in San Bernardino in front of about 30 friends and relatives, Newman walked six. But he allowed only one unearned run in picking up a victory. Friday, he walked five in a 12-3 loss to San Bernardino in Visalia, allowing seven runs, four earned.

Newman said he watched a film of his pitching during the game, Saturday, to try to figure out what he was doing wrong. Instead of pitching aggressively, he said, he seems to be trying to “get cute” and go for too many strikeouts.

At least that’s one thing that has remained the same--in 12 1/3 innings, he has 17 strikeouts.

Ask him about the Ks: Former Sunny Hills pitcher Paul Abbott hasn’t had the best luck this season for the Twins’ triple-A team in Portland. Abbott is 5-13 with a 4.79 ERA in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. Abbott’s 13 losses tied him for the league lead in that category and his ERA ranks in the bottom half of the league. But he leads the league in strikeouts with 118 in 118 1/3 innings.

Ken Whitworth, who was 13-4 for UC Irvine last season, the second-most victories in school history, is fifth in the Class A Pioneer League in earned-run average with a 2.88 ERA for the independent Salt Lake City Trappers. Whitworth is 4-2.


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