Gonzalez, Newman competing to be Pirates’ starting shortstop

BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) — Erik Gonzalez and Kevin Newman are competing to start at shortstop for Pittsburgh, the one open position in the Pirates’ everyday lineup.

The job opened when Jordy Mercer left after seven seasons and signed with the Detroit Tigers.

Gonzalez was acquired from Cleveland on Nov. 14. Newman made his major league debut with the Pirates last August and retains his rookie status.

Gonzalez spent the last three years as a utility infielder, stuck behind such stalwarts as shortstop Francisco Lindor, third baseman Jose Ramirez and second baseman Jason Kipnis.

“I was starting to lose my passion for baseball,” Gonzalez said. “I was talking to my agent to try to move to another team. I just want the chance to play.”

He will have a chance to prove himself during the exhibition season, which begins Saturday. The Pirates feel they may have unearthed a potential impact player in Gonzalez.

“We’ve had people that’ve seen this man play defense and said, ‘This guy can be dynamic,’” manager Clint Hurdle said. “‘OK’ wasn’t a word that came out of anybody’s mouth. ‘Above average. Dynamic. Very good. More range than anybody you’ve had at short.’”

Whether Gonzalez will hit enough to be a regular is the question. In 162 career games, he has a .263 batting average and five home runs.

“It’s hard when you only play once a week to keep your timing,” he said. “I did the best I could to stay ready. I worked hard every day before games.

“I do think I learned a lot about hitting from my teammates. I talked to Lindor a lot, talked to Ramirez, talked to (Edwin) Encarnacion. They are all great hitters, and they helped me.”

Newman struggled in his initial trip to the big leagues, hitting .209 in 31 games. However, he was the Pirates’ first-round draft pick in 2015 and was once considered among the top 100 prospects in baseball.

The Pirates feel Newman is a better player that what he showed last year. General manager Neal Huntington pointed out that Newman lost 10 pounds during the season and was not at his best physically once he reached the major leagues.

Newman, though, has come back stronger this spring. He was one of the few Pirates with a chance to make the opening-day roster to attend the team’s minicamp in January, and he also showed up to spring training more a week before the full squad was scheduled to report.

“Getting an opportunity is all you could ever ask for,” Newman said. “I’m really excited about it. Every day, I worked as hard as I could, got as toned as I could, got as prepared as I could to come in ready to fight for a spot.”

NOTES: The Pirates held their first full-squad workout Monday. The full contingent of 61 players was on hand. … Right-hander Rookie Davis was signed to a minor league contract and given an invitation to major league camp. He made his big league debut with the Cincinnati Reds in 2017 but spent last season in the minors while rehabbing from hip surgery. … Former Pirates players who are guest instructors in camp include Steve Blass, John Candelaria, Bill Mazeroski, Omar Moreno, Manny Sanguillen and Rennie Stennett.