Courtesy of StepOutside.org

Newman’s having biggest blast of his career

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Kevin Newman tags out the Brewers' Christian Yelich trying to steal Saturday night at PNC Park. - AP

Kevin Newman is already proving the naysayers wrong, those who felt he would not hit enough to be an everyday shortstop in the major leagues.

After going 4 for 5 on Saturday, Newman is hitting .324/.369/.479 in 61 games. He had a 19-game hitting streak snapped last Sunday. It remains the longest in the major leagues this season.

However, Newman isn’t just hitting singles, though he had three Saturday. He is also starting to hit for power.

The rookie belted his sixth home run of the season, one of the many offensive highlights in the Pirates’ 12-2 rout of the Brewers at PNC Park. The Pirates (43-45) won for just the second time in 10 games against Milwaukee this season.

Here's Newman's fourth-inning blast:

Newman reached the major leagues last season and did not homer in 97 plate appearances. In five minor-league seasons, he went deep just 15 times in 402 games. And he homered just twice in three seasons and 165 games at the University of Arizona.

So, what gives with the sudden power? I asked him that at his locker after the game:

Newman feels some of its has do with an offseason conditioning program in which he gained 15 pounds. Clint Hurdle believes it is a case of a young player maturing.

“This is the most confident he’s probably ever been as a hitter in the Pirate (organization),” Hurdle said after the game at PNC Park. “There’s some pull-side pop, dead left-field pop. He’s done it a few times, and he’s shown the hittability to the ball to the right-center field gap and down the right-field line. So, we’re seeing a lot of good things. We’re watching a very good hitter grow before our eyes.”

Newman led the Pirates’ 17-hit attack and finished with three RBIs — he had a two-run single in a four-run first inning against Adrian Houser (2-3). Colin Moran also had four hits and three RBIs and Starling Marte drove in three runs.

It’s hard to believe this is the same offense that struggled to average three runs a game during the first six weeks of the season.

• Rookie right-hander Dario Agrazal (2-0) benefited from the offensive outburst, pitching six solid innings for the win. He was called up from Class AAA Indianapolis to make a spot start, taking the place of Trevor Williams, who was put on the paternity list.

Agrazal was not dominant, as he had only one strikeout. However, he held the Brewers to two runs – on solo home runs by All-Stars Mike Moustakas and Yasmani Grandal – and five hits.

One of the things that has stood out the most about Agrazal is that he works at a quick pace. That is by design.

“That’s how I’ve always been,” Agrazal said through translator Mike Gonzalez. “My mentality has always been attack mode. I don’t like to put myself in any situation where I’m thinking too much. I love to enjoy the game. I love to complete. And I’m always out there to just attack.”

Now compare that to Mitch Keller, who has gone 0-2 in his first three major-league starts and is currently back at Indianapolis.

Keller is ranked as one of the top 20 prospects in baseball while Agrazal has never been considered one of the top 20 prospects in the Pirates’ organization. Yet it’s Agrazal and his “attack mode” style of pitching that has succeeded at the highest level.

Sometimes, it’s about more than just raw talent.

• Don’t look now, but Richard Rodriguez has the longest active scoreless streak in the major leagues.

Rodriguez pitched a perfect eighth, giving him 17 1/3 consecutive innings without allowing a run. That is impressive considering Rodriguez’s ERA was 6.45 at the end of May. He has not been scored upon since, lowering his ERA to 3.72.

A lot of people jumped off the Rodriguez bandwagon in May, including me. Give the Pirates credit for sticking with him and getting him back on track.

• The Pirates are two games under .500 and in fourth place in the National League Central. Yet they are just 3 ½ games behind the division-leading Cubs.

Baseball logic tells me the Pirates don’t have enough depth to win what would be their first division title since 1992, especially after watching them bumble through losing streaks of eight and seven games this season. However, this sport doesn’t make sense sometimes, which helps make it great.

“We’re here to win games, and we’re just trying get wins every night and hopefully make things really interesting,” Newman said.

Where that takes them remains to be seen. I’m still not a believer, but I’m now at least open to changing my mind.

• There was a scary moment in the eighth inning when Brewers shortstop Orlando Arcia and second baseman Keston Hiura had a violent collision while trying to field Moran’s two-run single up the middle.

Arcia left the game but was able to sit up while being driven off the field on a cart and waved to the crowd. Hiura stayed in the game after also being down for a couple of minutes.

Manager Craig Counsell said Arcia complained of shoulder pain but was still being examined while he met with the media after the game.

“They're both just trying to make a play,” Counsell said. “Just in the wrong spot and hit at the wrong speed. My understanding is Orlando's shoulder hit Keston probably somewhere in the head area.”

It was a sickening thing to watch. Thankfully, it didn’t turn nearly as badly as it could have.

THE ESSENTIALS

• Boxscore
• Video highlights
Scoreboard
• Standings

THE INJURIES

Steven Brault, left-hander, was placed on the 10-day IL on Saturday with a left shoulder strain. He was injured during Friday's game with the Brewers.

Gregory Polancoright fielder, is on the 10-day IL with a left posterior shoulder strain. He is on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Indianapolis.

Francisco Cervellicatcher, is on the seven-day concussion IL.

Jameson Taillonright-hander, is on the 60-day IL with a right elbow flexor-tendon strain.

Keone Kelaright-hander, is on the 60-day IL with right shoulder inflammation. He pitched a simulated game Saturday.

• Rookie Davis, right-hander, is on the 10-day IL with a right middle-finger blister and is now rehabbing a strained right forearm at the Pirates' training facility in Bradenton, Fla.

• Erik Gonzalez, shortstop, is on the 60-day IL with a left clavicle fracture, and is on a rehab assignment with Indianapolis.

Lonnie Chisenhall, outfielder, is on the 60-day IL with a left calf strain.

THE SCHEDULE

The Pirates and Brewers finish their three-game series -- and reach the unofficial halfway point of the season -- at 1:35 p.m. Sunday with Joe Musgrove (6-7, 4.15) facing Chase Anderson (4-2, 4.31). Musgrove is 3-1 with a 3.14 ERA in his last six starts and Anderson is 1-2 with a 5.40 ERA in his last six starts.

The Pirates then have four days off for the All-Star break before opening a three-game series against the Cubs on Friday afternoon in Chicago. I will be in Cleveland on Monday night for the All-Star Home Run Derby and Tuesday night for the All-Star Game, then travel to Chicago for the start of the second half.

THE COVERAGE

All our expanded baseball coverage, including Indy Watch by Matt WelchAltoona Watch by Jarrod Prugar, and Mound Visit by Jason Rollison, can be found on our team page.

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