For Casey McGehee, the last couple of weeks have been a foray into uncharted territory. McGehee has been playing baseball professionally since 2003, but only a sliver of that time has been spent playing second base.
So it’s an interesting twist of fate that one of the keys to keeping the Yomiuri Giants’ postseason streak (currently at 10) going might be McGehee’s ability to fit a square peg into a round hole.
“It’s going on 10 years since I did it,” the Giants infielder told The Japan Times about adjusting to playing second. “It’s kind of starting over. The speed at which the ball gets to you and the timing of it are just different. At the same time, that’s what it is, and I’m going to try to continue to improve at it.”
McGehee, who usually plays third, has been starting at second since after the All-Star break, because his bat is too important to leave out of the lineup. Also because he can probably handle the move better than either Shuichi Murata and definitely Shinnosuke Abe, two other corner infielders with bats the team wants in the order, could.
For McGehee, the move is a work in progress. There have been a few hiccups, but the 34-year-old is working hard to find his bearings. McGehee entered this season having played 850 games in the majors and 144 for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in 2013. He made just 23 appearances (20 starts) at second, the last before this season being once in 2012 while with the New York Yankees.
“There have been some plays that I should’ve made,” McGehee said. “All I can say is I’m going to continue to work to try to get better. It’s not natural for me, but that’s not an excuse. I take it as a challenge to try to improve every day. Maybe the end game won’t be Gold Glove-level defense at second base, but I still feel like I’ve got plenty of room to improve and at least be able to make the plays that I’m expected to make. I’m challenging myself to try to get better everyday, and that’s all we can do.”
Of course, it’s McGehee’s offense that makes this experiment worth exploring. He was hitting .309 through Monday, and tied for first on the team with 11 home runs and second with an .890 on-base plus slugging percentage and 46 RBIs. He also entered the week leading NPB with 33 doubles.
“Just trying to take it day day-to-day, not worrying about what happened before,” McGehee said of his approach. “Each at-bat is individual of anything else, and good bad or indifferent, you’ve got to turn the page and get to the next one. Learn from the last one, but don’t take it with you.”
Offense has been an struggle for the Giants in recent years and being able to keep McGehee, Murata (who is manning third base) and Abe (the first baseman) all in the lineup, alongside Hayato Sakamoto, the team’s best hitter, and Hisayoshi Chono, who is having a good second half, could give the club a boost in the race for the third playoff spot in the Central League. Yomiuri began the week four games behind the Yokohama BayStars for that position.
“There’s going to come a stretch where we get four or five guys hot together,” McGehee said. “When that happens, I think this team really has a chance to put a lot of runs on the board.”
McGehee has been consistent with his bat all year and wasn’t too shabby at third base either. Now the challenge is getting up to speed at an unfamiliar spot as the pressure ramps up in the race for the Climax Series.
“(Takayuki) Terauchi has been a big help,” McGehee said. Daisuke Nakai has helped me out a lot, just talking to me about positioning and things like that. Of course the infield coach (Hirokazu) Ibata, he’s a wealth of knowledge with how good of a defender he was when he was playing (Ibata won seven Golden Gloves during his career) and he’s given me some little things here and there.
“For the most part, I think they’ve been trying to not overload me with information and let me try to go play and somewhat figure it out as I go and not be thinking about 12 different ideas that have been put in my head. But they’ve all been more than willing to help, and they have helped. I rely on those guys to continue to point things out to me that I can do and will help me improve.”