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Infielder McGehee is hoping change with Pirates is good

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Friday, Feb. 24, 2012

BRADENTON, Fla. — As he settles in with his third National League Central team in five years, Pirates infielder Casey McGehee is keeping a wary eye on Aramis Ramirez.

In 2003, the Chicago Cubs drafted McGehee in the 10th round. One month later, they acquired Ramirez from the Pirates, putting a road block at the end of McGehee's path to the majors.

McGehee was claimed off waivers by the Milwaukee Brewers after the 2008 season. This past winter, McGehee was traded to the Pirates a few days after the Brewers signed Ramirez to replace him at third base.

"I hope Aramis Ramirez checks with me before he makes any more life changes," McGehee joked Thursday. "That guy has been chasing me all over. Hopefully, he doesn't want to come back to where he started in Pittsburgh."

There's not much chance of that happening. The players who will directly affect McGehee's status this season are Garrett Jones and Pedro Alvarez.

McGehee will, at the very least, platoon at first base with the left-handed hitting Jones. A natural third baseman, McGehee also will spell Alvarez — and would get ample playing time there if Alvarez slumps.

"There are plenty of at-bats for everybody if we do the things we capable of doing as a team," manager Clint Hurdle said. "There's going to be opportunities for Jones, McGehee and Alvarez. We'll see where the competition takes us."

McGehee seemed to be a rising star in his first two years with Milwaukee. In 2009, he batted .301 with 16 homers and finished fifth in rookie of the year voting. A year later, his average dipped to a still-respectable .285 and he clubbed 23 home runs.

Last season, however, McGee's average tumbled to .223. Sabermetricians would call it a classic example of bad luck. McGehee's hitting patterns did not change — he was putting balls in the same spots as before — but his batting average on balls in play fell by 57 points and his walk and strikeout rates were virtually unchanged.

"At the beginning of last year, I had some bad luck and got frustrated with it," McGehee said. "So I started trying to change things."

McGehee started looking only for balls he could knock over the fence. He adjusted and re-adjusted his swing mechanics. Before very long, he was clueless at the plate.

"My head was so screwed up. I could never get back to anything that felt good," McGehee said.

McGehee was essentially a bench player over the second half of last season and figured his time in Milwaukee was up. On Dec. 12, the Pirates got him in exchange for reliever Jose Veras.

Changes to his diet helped McGehee drop 25 pounds this offseason, which will ease pressure on his surgically repaired knee. McGehee believes a change of venue will help him rediscover his swing.

"I was excited to get a new start, no matter where it was," McGehee said. "The more I thought about Pittsburgh, once I realized this was where I was coming, I got more excited each day. I don't know what the season's got in store for me, but I want to get out there every day and do my part. I feel like I can help this team take the next step."

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