When Giants manager Bruce Bochy said Monday night he planned to give Casey McGehee a couple of days off to let the struggling third baseman “catch his breath,” it created an opportunity for backup infielder Matt Duffy to start consecutive games in McGehee’s stead.
Duffy’s production in those two games: Four hits, a run, an RBI and flawless defense at third base, a position he rarely played before this spring. McGehee got into the Giants’ 9-1 loss to the San Diego Padres on Wednesday afternoon as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning, and popped out on the first pitch.
Following the Giants’ first loss in six games, Bochy was asked whether Duffy had earned more playing time. The manager left the possibility open.
“We’ll talk about it,” Bochy said. “I like to get with the players first. But it’s fair to say he’s doing a nice job.”
Bochy has been steadfast in his support of McGehee, who was acquired to be the Giants’ everyday third baseman. But a week into May, McGehee is batting .178 with three RBIs and has grounded into nine double plays after leading the majors last season with 31.
After he hit into a double play with the bases loaded Monday night, McGehee returned to the Giants’ dugout accompanied by boos from the crowd at AT&T Park. Still, after that game, Bochy said of McGehee’s offense: “It’s coming with him, I can see it.”
Meanwhile, Duffy is making a case for more at-bats. He singled twice off Padres right-hander Ian Kennedy on Wednesday and scored the Giants’ only run on Nori Aoki’s single in the third inning. Duffy played a clean game at third, deftly handling a sharp grounder off the bat of San Diego’s Matt Kemp leading off the ninth inning.
“The kid’s playing well,” Bochy said. “He’s doing a good job at third, he got another two hits today. It’s nice to see guys step in and take advantage of playing time. He’s a nice player, and until we get Casey in the right place it’s nice to have a guy like Duffy or even Joaquin (Arias) that can step in there and do a nice job for you.”
Third base has been a bit of a transition for Duffy, a natural shortstop. Because it requires him to play closer to the plate, especially when shading in against a fast hitter, he said, “When I first moved there I felt a little uncomfortable, like the batter was on top of me.”
Duffy has put in hours of work at third before games this season with bench coach Ron Wotus and coach Shawon Dunston, doing drills to help his reaction time. Those include “live fungoes,” where instead of Wotus hitting grounders to Duffy by himself, Dunston tosses him the ball from an angle, so Duffy has to read Wotus’ swing and anticipate the path the ball will take.
“He tries to hit it as hard as he can at me, at least as hard as he can without hitting it in the air,” Duffy said. “It’s just getting used to close distance – you don’t have to worry about moving your feet here, just work your hands, catch the ball, because you have time to set your feet and throw (to first).”
That part is different from shortstop, where Duffy must get into position to throw as he is fielding the ball. But other aspects of third are similar, he said: “Same angles, same side of the diamond … it’s the place that I was least comfortable at before. I’d say it’s gotten to the point, that’s where I’m most comfortable now.”
Duffy played his way onto the Giants’ playoff roster during last year’s World Series run and made the team out of spring training by batting .361, beating out Ehire Adrianza for the backup job despite the fact Duffy still had minor-league options and Adrianza did not.
Both Duffy and Arias were supposed to be backup options for McGehee. But McGehee’s transition to San Francisco has not been smooth. McGehee had his best game as a Giant last Saturday with three hits and an RBI against the Los Angeles Angels but otherwise has an RBI in just one other game: April 8 in Arizona.
McGehee has said he’s “maybe trying to do too much,” and Duffy said it has been hard to watch a teammate go through those struggles.
“I think we’re at our best if we’re both producing, he’s starting and producing and I’m pinch hitting and producing,” Duffy said. “The more guys you have playing well, the better off you are as a team. So you feel for him personally and for the team.
“He’s a good person. And he works hard. When somebody works that hard you’re going to feel for them when things aren’t going their way … but that makes it even harder when somebody’s just a good person.”