CINCINNATI -- The last thing most slumping hitters want to do is discuss their struggles with a couple of reporters. Casey McGehee felt quite the opposite at the end of a 15-minute chat Wednesday afternoon. "Talking about it right now, it's almost ..." he said, struggling to find the right word. Cathartic.
"It almost puts me at ease talking about it," McGehee said. "Because as I'm talking to you guys, I'm kind of reminding myself of some of the things I do when I'm going well that you overlook when you're in the heart of it. You get more focused on the outcome, rather than how you're going to get to that point." His outcomes have not been very positive of late -- hitless in his last 10 at-bats, with three hits in his last 23 at-bats. He's tried everything from tweaks to his swing in batting practice to watching video to changing his strict at-bat routine. In the eighth inning of Tuesday's win against the Reds, he used a two-toned bat that pitcher Shaun Marcum had brought with him from Toronto. It belonged to baseball's home run leader, Jose Bautista. McGehee grounded out to third base, capping an 0-for-4 night, and an 0-for-8 start to the series in Cincinnati. Manager Ron Roenicke left McGehee out of the lineup for Wednesday's series finale, only the third start McGehee has missed this season. Roenicke could have given a variety of reasons for picking this day. He might have said Craig Counsell, who started at third base in McGehee's place, needed the at-bats. Or that Thursday's off-day gives McGehee a two-day break. Or that he wanted McGehee to rest his surgically-repaired knee. Instead, Roenicke cited McGehee's "frustration level." "He's a grinder, and I know the grinding has worked for him, but I think sometimes just sitting back and watching the game [can help]," Roenicke said. "Sometimes it just beats you up. You try harder and harder, and you have to sit back and watch something. The good thing, he's very confident in what he can do. He's done it in the past, and he knows he will do it again." Through the season's first two months, McGehee was on a pace to bat .246 with 12 home runs and 68 RBIs. Last season, his first full year in the Majors, he batted .285 with 23 homers and a team-best 104 RBIs. "As much as I hate going through this stuff, it's definitely a good lesson," he said. "I think it's helping me mature as a player overall. Of course, there have been days where I'm at my wits end and want to go break stuff, but in the long run, coming out of this is going to make me better." McGehee has been thinking a lot about a piece of advice he received from a Double-A coach in 2005: You're never as good as you think you are, or as bad. So what's wrong? McGehee dismissed the notion that opponents suddenly have a better "book" on how to pitch him, and conceded that he might be trying to pull the ball. His natural swing produces opposite-field hits. It feels like he's hitting more ground balls, but his ratio of ground balls to fly balls (1.33) is about the same as last year (1.28). He's actually walking slightly more (in 7.9 percent of plate appearances vs. 7.5 percent last season) and striking out less (in 14.5 percent of plate appearances, vs. 15.2 percent last year). Bad luck has been a partial culprit. McGehee's batting average on balls in play is a below-average .278. It was .306 last year. "The only thing at this point is I can't try to reinvent the wheel every time out there," he said. "I know I can hit. I believe I can hit. I've proven I can hit. It's just frustrating, because you want it to happen. "This game can humble you in a hurry. Sometimes you think, 'OK, I get it. You humbled me. I learned my lesson.'" Right fielder Corey Hart's sudden resurgence has given McGehee some hope. Hart missed the first month of the season with a rib-cage injury and went homerless with only one RBI in his first 21 games. Then he hit five home runs with 13 RBIs in a six-game span through Tuesday. McGehee pointed out that this is not his first funk. Last year, in a 25-game stretch from May 28-June 26, he batted .168 with nine RBIs, struck out 20 times against only eight walks and had just one multihit game. He batted .303 over the rest of the season. "There have been some at-bats the last few days that I'm not very happy about, but then there are some that make me feel like I'm close," he said. "Those are starting to come more frequently, even if I haven't had much to show for them. "The great thing about it is the team is playing well. I might be singing a little different tune if we were struggling as a team. Obviously, I want to contribute to the level I know I'm capable of and that the guys in here are expecting from me." He added, "We have a long way to go, and by no means does the baseball card have the numbers stamped on the back of it yet."