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McGehee steps up for Brewers

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McClatchy-Tribune
June 19, 2009
— With Aramis Ramirez entrenched as their starting third baseman, the Chicago Cubs figured they didn’t need Casey McGehee anymore, despite a banner 2008 season with Class AAA Iowa.

Funny, how things work out at times. Let’s just say the Cubs’ sputtering offense might look more formidable these days with McGehee on the club.


“I really haven’t thought much about it,” said McGehee, who has emerged as an offensive force for the Milwaukee Brewers after beginning the season buried on their bench. “It’s kind of a tough situation (for Chicago).”


The Cubs, of course, had no way of knowing that Ramirez would be lost for many weeks with a dislocated shoulder. Oddly enough, he suffered that injury while trying to make a diving stab of a grounder during a Chicago-Milwaukee series in early May at Miller Park.


Looking to create roster flexibility after the 2008 season, the Cubs placed McGehee on waivers after he batted .296 with 30 doubles, 12 home runs and 92 RBIs in 133 games for Iowa.


The Brewers claimed McGehee and added him to their 40-man roster. The idea was to add depth to the infield, which turned out to be a prescient move.


At the time, the Brewers could not know that second baseman Rickie Weeks would be lost for the season in mid-May with a wrist injury. Or that third baseman Bill Hall’s offensive freefall would carry into 2009.


A third baseman by trade who dabbled in catching and a bit of first base, McGehee was given work during spring training at second base, which certainly has paid off. Since the loss of Weeks, manager Ken Macha has divided playing time at second between the right-handed-hitting McGehee and left-handed-hitting Craig Counsell.


“Spring training was my first extended period at second base,” said McGehee, 26, a 10th-round draft pick by the Cubs in 2003 out of Fresno State. “Some of the stuff came pretty quick, the ground balls and stuff. Some of the plays you can’t work on until you’re in that situation. It’s more of thought process with guys on base with cut-offs and relays.”


McGehee hit his way onto the team in spring training, batting .328 with six home runs and 16 RBI in 27 games. But, as often is the case with young players seeing irregular action for the first time, he struggled to produce off the bench once the season began.


McGehee was batting .188 (3-for-16) with no RBIs at the time Weeks was injured. Since then, he has worked his way into regular playing time by swinging a hot bat.


Over his last 19 games, McGehee (pronounced McGee) is batting .393 (22-for-56) with a home run—his first in the majors—and 10 RBIs. His seven-game hitting streak (.538) was snapped with a 0-for-4 showing Tuesday night in Cleveland.


McGehee was out of the lineup Wednesday because of soreness in his right knee and left ankle. He fouled a pitch off the ankle, leaving his lower leg the colors of a Jackson Pollock painting. But it’s the patella tendinitis in the knee that could prove more troubling over time.


Understandably, McGehee wants to play and hopes to be back in the lineup tonight when the Brewers begin an interleague series in Detroit. As for his emergence with the Brewers, he says it merely was a matter of being in the right place at the right time.


“I’ve always tried to approach my career with not worrying about where you’ve been or where you’re going to go. You can’t really control that,” said McGehee, batting .338 overall with 11 RBIs in 74 at-bats and a .407 on-base percentage.


“In the minor leagues, it’s not the ideal place you want to be. But if you don’t take care of business there, it’s where you’re going to be. When I got picked up by Milwaukee, I felt like it was a good thing right away.


“The Cubs thought they were covered (at third base). Of course, I disagreed with it, but I ended up in a better place for myself. I’ve got nothing bad to say about those guys over there. They gave me my first chance. I don’t blame them for anything.”


Assuming he gets past his knee issue quickly, McGehee is taking nothing for granted as far as future playing time. Finally getting his break with the Brewers after six seasons in the Cubs’ farm system, he knows he has to earn his keep.


“This is the big leagues. You’ve got to keep producing to get your chances,” he said. “If somebody is doing a better job than I am, that’s the guy who’s going to be playing. That’s the way it should be.


“Each day is different. Who knows what happens tomorrow? You never know what will happen. Hopefully, when I’m in there, I can help the team win.”



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