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McGehee refuses to ease up

McGehee refuses to ease up

PHOENIX -- While the Brewers ponder who could emerge this spring as the next Casey McGehee, McGehee himself isn't resting on his 2009 laurels.

"The only difference this year is that I know everybody's name," said McGehee, the surprise of last year's camp. "Other than that, I'm going at it the same way I did last year. I don't think I'm in a position to be handed anything. I've looked at it like that my whole career and I don't figure that now, after one year in the big leagues, it's time to change."

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Last year at this time, he was a relative unknown who had been plucked off waivers from the Cubs. McGehee's most likely destination was Triple-A, but he instead turned a brilliant spring into an Opening Day roster spot, then turned a mid-May opportunity to play regularly into a bid for the National League Rookie of the Year Award.

By season's end, McGehee led all Major League rookies with 66 RBIs while batting .301. Based on that performance, third base is his to lose this time around.

Good luck convincing him to relax.

"I'm not stupid. I know that the situation is maybe a little different," he said. "But I'm trying to put that as far out of my mind as possible and try to fight and scratch and claw my way onto the team. That's worked out for me pretty well so far."

Here's another big difference that McGehee would rather not talk about: His knee isn't aching anymore. McGehee played most of last season with bone chips in the joint that were so painful it was sometimes difficult to walk around the clubhouse after a game.

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He had surgery immediately after the season to clean out the joint. According to assistant general manager Gord Ash, McGehee has a degenerative condition in the joint and opted for an arthroscopic surgery over a more invasive -- and riskier -- procedure to inject healthy cells into the knee.

With opportunity staring him right in the face, McGehee was not willing to risk missing any time in 2010.

"The knee is good," he said. "I'm much more mobile and I have zero pain. I know everybody has been wanting to ask me about it, but hopefully after they see me moving around a little it will become a non-issue that won't have to be asked every day."

If it does become an issue, the Brewers have one of their top prospects, 23-year-old Mat Gamel, waiting in the wings. Gamel got a shot last season but, unlike McGehee, he couldn't take advantage, and now he's re-dedicated to a comeback.

He departed for winter ball in Venezuela only days after getting married, then reported to camp on Feb. 16, a full 11 days early. Last spring, he caught some flak from teammates for being among the last to arrive (though he had a good excuse -- his fiancée, Julianne, was about to have the couple's first child).

"You have to give the guy credit for absorbing some things," manager Ken Macha said.

"I just have to make sure I'm doing the right things and whatever happens, happens," Gamel said. "If I don't make the club, it's not for a lack of hard work. Casey had an unbelievable year last year, and the guy earned the right to have the job be his. If I get an opportunity, I just have to make the most of it."

Gamel was hitting .336 at Triple-A Nashville last May when the Brewers promoted him to the Majors. He got only sporadic playing time and slumped the rest of the way, hitting .242 in the Majors and .234 after a return to the Minors.

Casey McGehee among 2009 NL rookie leaders
Category McGehee Rank Leader
Batting avg. .301 2nd Coghlan (FLA), .326
Home runs 16 T-2nd Jones (PIT), 21
RBIs 66 1st N/A
Multi-hit games 30 T-5th Coghlan, 51
Runs 58 7th Coghlan, 84
On-base percentage .360 7th Coghlan, .390
Slugging pct. .499 2nd Jones, .567

Gamel, general manager Doug Melvin said, "still has a chance. He could make the ballclub. If I knew who the 25 guys would be, I would only bring 25 guys to camp."

Is there a scenario in which Gamel starts the season on the Brewers' bench?

"I don't know," Melvin said. "It depends on how he plays. It depends on if McGehee stays healthy. It depends on if we need a left-handed bat."

Both of the Brewers' third basemen have young children. McGehee's son, Mack, who turned 3 on Feb. 16 and has cerebral palsy, made his way into fans' hearts last July when he threw a ceremonial first pitch at Miller Park as Brewers wives presented a $50,000 donation to United Cerebral Palsy, a nonprofit group. Hours later, dad came off the bench to hit a go-ahead home run and then, with tears in his eyes, told Mack's story. McGehee said Mack made great progress over the winter.

"He's getting fired up to be a big brother here shortly," McGehee said.

Sarah McGehee is due to give birth to the couple's second child in May. It promises to be a busy summer.

"I think everybody is expecting me to have a sophomore slump," Casey McGehee said. "I kind of enjoy that because it reminds me that I haven't done anything yet. It keeps that chip on my shoulder that I feel like I've had. Sometimes I think having that chip is a good thing."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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{"content":["spring_training" ] }