McGehee off to good start with Pirates on a bounce-back season

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LOS ANGELES -- When the Pirates tried to strengthen their roster this winter, a third baseman from Milwaukee caught their attention.

Four games into the season, that third baseman had three extra-base hits.

Casey McGehee had a rough 2011 season that followed an exceptional 2010. He also didn't have a home after the Brewers signed free agent Aramis Ramirez.

The Pirates believed McGehee could reach the level he set in '10 and got him, sending Jose Veras to Milwaukee.

  • Game: Pirates at Dodgers, 10:10 p.m., Dodger Stadium.
  • TV, Radio: Root Sports, KDKA-FM (93.7).
  • Probables: RHP Jeff Karstens (0-0, 1.50) vs. LHP Chris Capuano (0-0, 7.71).
  • Key matchup: Karstens vs. Andre Ethier, who is 4 for 11 with a home run and four RBIs in his career against Karstens.
  • Hidden stat: Capuano has a 5.99 ERA in 17 career games against the Pirates.

"That's why we went to aggressively make the baseball trade," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Internally, our thought was, he was an excellent candidate for a bounce-back season."

McGehee had two doubles and a triple in nine at-bats entering the game Wednesday against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He has played first and third base, starting against left-handers when Hurdle chose to sit Pedro Alvarez and Garrett Jones.

Tuesday, he hit a long triple to center off Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw. Matt Kemp lost the ball in the sun, but it was struck well.

"It's a pretty big ballpark," McGehee said. "Anytime you drive a ball like that here, you hit it pretty decent."

McGehee hit with power his first two full seasons in the majors ('09-10) with a combined .477 slugging percentage. In '10, he hit 23 home runs, drove in 104 runs and had 38 doubles. Last season, his slugging percentage fell to .346 and he hit only 13 homers.

"The important part of adversity is to learn from it," Hurdle said. "We believe he was a good candidate to learn from the challenges he had. Hopefully, the opportunity here, the environment here, will help free him up where he knows he doesn't have to do more to be successful."

McGehee hit .298 with a home run and seven doubles in spring training. The success in nine at-bats through four games doesn't represent a turnaround, but the work to create the hits was positive.

"I'm encouraged by all the hard work, more importantly, that he put in in spring training," Hurdle said. "The biggest trap hitters fall into ... is when something starts spinning out, you change something. And, when you continue to change things, the one thing you get very good at is changing. To continually change and look for consistency, it's an oxymoron."

McGehee said he felt good about his hitting and that the bat feels good in his hands.

"That's usually all that matters," he said. "The bat feels right in your hands and you don't feel like you're swinging underwater."

McLouth gets first start

Nate McLouth started his first game of the season in right field, replacing Jose Tabata and batting second.

"Nate McLouth's here to play also," Hurdle said. "We've got some guys that give us flexibility and versatility, and I want to get them in when it's appropriate."

Hurdle said Tabata had the chance to get extra work in Wednesday afternoon because he had the night off.

McLouth has appeared in three games, walking once and striking out once in two plate appearances.

"You have to know that your job is to be ready when called on, whether it's the seventh or eighth inning or to start," McLouth said. "That's really the best way to go about it."

McLouth hit .362 with two home runs in spring training. He said he tried to replicate that positive feeling in practice once the season started.

"I've really done a good job in batting practice and working in the cage and things like that to just maintain that feeling, to try to leave the cage every day with that same feeling," he said. "More times than not, when you can work with the same mindset that you play, you'll be fine in the game."

Burnett struggles

A.J. Burnett allowed eight runs, five earned, on five hits in 12/3 innings in a rehabilitation start Wednesday night for Class A Bradenton. He walked one and struck out four.

Burnett could return to the rotation by the end of April, general manager Neal Huntington has said, after working through a simulated spring training necessitated by surgery to repair a broken orbital bone beneath his right eye.


Bill Brink: and on Twitter @BrinkPG.


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