Casey McGehee signing proves fortuitous for Tigers

Lynn Henning, The Detroit News
Casey McGehee of the Detroit Tigers celebrates a run in the fifth inning. McGehee had four hits, including a double, in the Tigers' 2-0 victory.

Arlington, Texas — Not a lot of large-type headlines or lengthy stories were written. Not many talk-radio hours were absorbed by news of his contract with the Tigers.

But all along the Tigers knew Casey McGehee could prove, for however long of a stretch — at Triple A Toledo or on the big-league fields — to be helpful to a team and its 2016 tasks.

McGehee tied together a team’s strategies and his own self-belief Saturday at Globe Life Park in a 2-0 victory that turned a five-game Tigers losing streak into a bad snippet of season history.

He was 4-for-4 against one of the toughest hombres in baseball, Rangers starter Cole Hamels. He scored one run and his sixth-inning double drove home another as McGehee helped mightily in the Tigers’ quest to replace one of their many disabled regulars, third baseman Nick Castellanos.

“I was never worried about Casey McGehee,” said Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, offering an overview of a 33-year-old corner infielder who has played for seven big-league teams. “Casey McGehee looks like a big-league player and he handles himself at third base like a big-leaguer.”

McGehee appreciates the words and would, humbly, agree. He has played eight years in the big leagues. He has a .258 career batting average, a .707 OPS, and has walloped 67 home runs.

The Tigers signed him to a minor-league contract this spring realizing, if McGehee would be patient with them, that he had every chance of playing in Detroit — at some point in 2016.

They also knew McGehee’s reputation as a clubhouse elder and citizen would help steady their younger troops at Toledo if a numbers game blocked McGehee from regular work in Detroit. 

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McGehee agreed to hang on even though he could have moved to another organization after he failed to make the team out of spring camp.

It wasn’t easy. McGehee doesn’t consider himself a minor-leaguer. But he listened to his dad’s counsel during phone conversations that couldn’t help but reveal a son’s impatience.

“My dad said, ‘You signed up for this, and you’ve never quit anything in your life,’” McGehee said during a postgame conversation Saturday. “But I’d be lying if I told you there were days that weren’t tough.”

McGehee, though, wasn’t accepting the Tigers as a charity assignment. A 4-for-5 night Saturday — he is batting .333 in his two stints with Detroit in 2016 — and sturdy work at third base have helped explain why a man intended to yet play. For the Tigers.

“If I didn’t think I was a big-leaguer, I wouldn’t have taken the job this spring,” McGehee said. “I wouldn’t have put myself in a situation to compete.”

Running wrong

The Tigers had a doozy of a fourth inning Saturday. That is, if you enjoy a certain Keystone Kops element to running the bases.

In fact, it wasn’t quite that silly, or undisciplined.

But tell that to observers who realize base-travel isn’t among the Tigers’ great skills, which seemed to be confirmed when Mike Aviles and Jarrod Saltalamacchia were thrown out at third base, and home plate, respectively.

Aviles had led off the fourth with a single. The next batter, Saltalamacchia, slashed a single to left. Aviles, noticing that third baseman Adrian Beltre had strolled a bit far from the bag, rounded second and guessed he could land at third with none out.

But left-fielder Jurickson Profar threw a rivet to Beltre, who returned to his station just in time to grab the relay and plop a tag on Aviles.

It was now Saltalamacchia’s turn to learn lust for an extra base doesn’t always pay. Particularly when you’re half-committed.

Ian Kinsler lofted a bloop fly down the right-field line that Shin-Soo Choo couldn’t quite reach. The ball bounded away and Kinsler was on his way to second with a double.

Saltalamacchia, who had to be careful in the event Choo caught the ball, had stopped at third, then decided to scoot for home when he saw how far the ball had landed from the Rangers right-fielder.

It was a split-second series of judgments that didn’t match Choo’s wonderful arm. He threw a wide strike to Jonathan Lucroy who was able to sweep-tag Saltalamacchia for the out.

“It was a tough read for Salty,” Ausmus said. “He couldn’t know how far the ball had kicked away from him (Choo) 200 feet away.”

Kid stuff

The youngster arrived Saturday not many hours after he had been pulled from Friday night’s Toledo Mud Hens lineup and told he was joining the Tigers.

Dixon Machado wasn’t in the least unglued.

He had a walk and a single Saturday and played immaculately at shortstop. At age 24, the Tigers see in Machado a potential everyday big-leaguer. They were also pleased Machado was in their minor-league warehouse when Jose Iglesias moved to the disabled list Friday with a bad hamstring.

“I don’t think the atmosphere fazed him at all,” Ausmus said of Machado, who has had previous cameos in Detroit and who was all but assured of joining the Tigers when rosters expand in September.

It was a nine-pitch at-bat in the second, which began with an 0-and-2 count and ended in a walk, that might have most stirred the Tigers. A rookie not quite 24 hours removed from the minors had coaxed a pass from Hamels, not biting on pitches that missed the strike zone by about the width of a thread.

“One of the best at-bats I saw tonight was Machado coming back from that 0-and-2 and getting ball four,” said McGehee, who had played alongside Machado at Toledo.

“The one thing I saw from him in Toledo was that he was cool.”