VERO BEACH, FLORIDA – In baseball parlance, feared Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton is a beast.
Safe to say, also, that former Rakuten Golden Eagle Casey McGehee has released the beast.
A power hitter like Stanton — the National League home run leader with 19 — can only be as successful as the man hitting behind him in the batting order allows him to be.
That the heretofore much-pitched around Stanton has been able to launch so many of his patented moon shot homers this season as the third hitter in the Marlins’ order is a testament to how clutch McGehee has been in the clean-up spot.
McGehee had an amazing .411 average with runners in scoring position over the first 2½ months of this season.
In that span, Casey drove in the go-ahead run a mind-boggling 17 times — best in the majors. He has driven in the winning run on nine occasions (also tops in MLB).
Thus, Casey’s outstanding production has prevented opposing pitchers from bypassing the studly Stanton to get to a less dangerous hitter.
Facing Miami’s 3 and 4 hitters has been a pick-your-poison proposition all season long.
Giancarlo has driven in a whopping 56 runs already —also an NL best — while McGehee has plated 44 mates — good for seventh in the National loop.
“Casey’s been a real force behind me,” Stanton told MAS before a recent Marlins Park contest.
“He’s been great if I’ve walked or haven’t been able to get the job done — he’s stepped up and gotten the job done.”
Said McGehee of his protector’s role: “(Pitching around) Stanton is never gonna stop completely. But I try to at least get them to THINK about pitching to him.”
When foes do opt to face Stanton in critical situations, Casey is tickled pink.
“One time there was a man on second late in the game,” McGehee recalled. “First base was open and they could have walked Giancarlo but they didn’t.
“He then tied the game with a single — I found that very gratifying.”
The biggest surprise is that despite his splendid run-producing numbers out of the fourth spot, McGehee has hardly been your prototypical cleanup hitter.
The antithesis of Stanton, Casey has but one roundtripper.
He has instead used timely opposite field singles and doubles into the outfield gaps to pile up the ribbies — as opposed to fence-clearing bombs, normally associated with a four-hole hitter.
“I changed my hitting approach after spring training last year in Japan when I saw all the breaking balls they throw,” McGehee told MAS. “The pitchers there throw any pitch at any time.
“I tried to go the other way and let the ball get deep (into the hitting zone),” Casey explained.
“Now that I’ve come back to the majors, I’ve kept a lot of that thought process because we have a big ballpark that rewards you for hitting the ball hard.”
Casey’s batting average — a solid .313, best on the Marlins — reflects the excellent contact he is making.
As for the home runs: “They’ll take care of themselves — come naturally,” allowed McGehee.
Casey’s gamble to go to Japan last season to prove he could still be an everyday player has paid off big time for both himself and the surprising Marlins, who find themselves in the thick of the National League East title chase.
“When Pittsburgh (to whom he had been dealt after several big HR/RBI years in Milwaukee) traded me to the Yankees, it was a situation where I didn’t fit,” recalled Casey.
“I just wanted to play and get back on track. “And Japan was the best option for that.”
He was a key ingredient, of course, in Rakuten’s first Japan Series crown, hitting .292, with 28 dingers and 93 RBIs.
“I’m definitely proud of what I was able to do over there,” McGehee continued. “There aren’t a ton of position players who came back.”
McGehee came away highly impressed with former Rakuten hurler and teammate Masahiro Tanaka, now tearing it up in MLB with a 10-1 record for the New York Yankees.
“I’m his biggest fan,” gushed McGehee. “He’s a tremendous talent. He can manipulate the ball and make it do whatever he wants it to do.
“But it’s his demeanor, mentality and competitiveness that make him so good.”
The biggest thing Casey took away from his Golden Eagles’ experience, though, was winning a Japan Series crown.
“It’s the second biggest prize in our sport,” McGehee reckoned. “It’s definitely one of my biggest accomplishments.
“And to see how much it meant to the people of the (Tohoku) region, it made you feel like you had done some work that actually mattered.”
So now McGehee is in South Florida, giving folks there hope that good times may be back after three consecutive last-place finishes.
That he can’t be what some fans consider a traditional cleanup man bothers Casey not a whit.
“It’s human nature,” says McGehee, “to think your clean-up guy is gonna hit a lot of homers and strike out a lot and all that kind of stuff.
“But his job is to drive in runs and there are a lot ways to skin a cat.”
Meanwhile, Stanton has no problems with hitting third.
“It doesn’t really matter, actually,” Stanton offered. “There’s very little difference between the two — other than as the third hitter you’re sure to get to the plate in the first inning.”
Later that same night Stanton would unload two typical monster homers that traveled a collective 275 meters — a 140-meter blast, followed by a 135-meter shot.
Afterward, Stanton shrugged and said distance doesn’t matter.
“That’s for the fans and you guys,” he offered. “All I care about is that the ball goes over the yellow line (atop the outfield wall).
Suffice to say, if Giancarlo Stanton is a beast, then Casey McGehee is his gatekeeper.
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