Originally created 05/25/04

Nasty Newman



The grosser "Monkeyhands" can act against North Forsyth this afternoon in the quarterfinal round of the Georgia High School Association Class AAAA playoffs, the better off Greenbrier will be.

That's language best translated by the Greenbrier baseball team. Let's start with the young man with the monkey's hands.

"I'm thankful for big hands and long and lanky fingers," Greenbrier's Michael Newman said. "My monkey hands are a big help on the mound."

They'd fit best on the arms of a 6-foot-10 power forward, but they belong to Newman - who tops out at 6-3 and 180 pounds.

And that's one element as to why he's so gross.

"Gross is the word to describe Mike's split-finger pitch," Greenbrier catcher Jeremy Armstrong said. "I don't know when or where it's going to break. It just breaks. Sometimes it breaks left and down. Sometimes it breaks right and down. The only thing I know is it's going to break God knows-where."

One can fit a double cheeseburger in the gap Armstrong leaves between two hands to describe how close hitters come to touching that splitter. That's why Newman's thrown 66 innings this year and struck out 57 hitters.

"Sliders and curveballs have their traditional look and angles everybody is used to seeing," Armstrong said. "Guys don't know what to do when they see his splitter."

Greenbrier standout Scott Wandless best describes the futility of batting practice conducted with Newman on the hill.

"The word to describe him and that pitch is nasty," Wandless said. "The thing is just gross. It starts out flat, flat, flat and flat and the bottom just falls out of it right in front of the plate."

Newman carries a 10-0 record and 1.22 earned run average thanks to that pitch. He's whisked away the role of staff ace from Wandless on a team that's 26-2 and has won 14 straight games.

"I throw with him every day, and he uncorks the splitter every other toss," Greenbrier junior Ben Dukes said. "My glove is coming apart from the back seams from playing catch with him."

Newman went the first 21 innings this season before allowing a run. His fastball tops out in the mid-to-high 80 mph range, so he's not overpowering anyone. He's just making them look silly.

"Sometimes I'll catch him in the bullpen before games and I'll just start laughing," Armstrong said. "I'll think of the hitters having to try for that thing. I keep saying it, but it's funny thinking of somebody hitting a pitch that gross."

Newman went 5-2 with a 3.02 earned run average in 2003. He's twice as good this year because of his command of a pitch that's the unicorn of prep baseball.

"I might have seen an opposing pitcher throw me a splitter once in my entire high school career," Wandless said. "Who throws splitters in high school anyway? Much less ones that break like his."

Greenbrier coach Ed Williams saw Newman's build and hands after his sophomore year and began teaching him the pitch.

"It looks like a fastball when it heads toward the plate," Newman said. "It looks nothing like a curve, but it acts like it once it reaches the plate. Coach Williams thought I'd be able to throw it real well."

But not this well.

"It's odd but it's something I worked on and never gave up on it," Newman said. "I couldn't blow the ball by the best hitters at this level so I had to find something they couldn't hit hard. I'm just a control pitcher who hits his spots and works the corners trying to get hitters to chase stuff."

That's Newman to the core. Even without the gimmick, he'd be one stubborn young man to handle on the mound.

"The thing with Michael is he pitches," Williams said. "He's not throwing to throw hard. ... He knows he's on the mound to get people out, and not just impress people."

Wandless can debate that.

"If he throws me that splitter the way he does in games I'm going to be doing circles and doughnuts in the batter's box trying to hit that thing."

Reach Jeff Sentell at (706) 823-3425 or jeff.sentell@augustachronicle.com.