DENVER — Casey McGehee’s head was spinning.
He was surprised to be designated for assignment early Sunday and he spent much of the morning huddled in a locker at the visiting clubhouse at Coors Field, his cell phone pressed to his ear. A commercial flight back to California loomed. Reporters were waiting. A decision was, too, as McGehee eventually may have to decide if he wants to continue his career as a member of the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats.
In the middle of it all, McGehee grabbed Matt Duffy — the player who helped usher him off the big league roster — and pulled him into a back room in the clubhouse.
“I beat his ass back there,” McGehee said a few minutes later, briefly smiling on an otherwise brutal day.
McGehee went on to explain that he can relate to Duffy because he was in a similar situation with the Brewers in 2009. Bill Hall had been an everyday player, but McGehee hit .301 with 16 homers in his first season in Milwaukee, finished fifth in the Rookie of the Year voting and went on to play 312 games for the Brewers the next two seasons. Hall was designated for assignment in August and then traded to Seattle.
“I remember feeling bad about it,” McGehee said. “I just want Duffy to know he has nothing to feel bad about. He’s doing his job, he’s doing it well, and you know, the rest of it I’ll leave between us. But basically I wanted to make sure that he knew he has absolutely nothing to feel bad about.
“He should be proud that he forced the issue to the point where you’ve got to get him on the field. That’s what his job is. That’s what he’s supposed to do.”
The numbers say this was an easy decision once the Giants decided to go back to carrying 13 pitchers. McGehee was hitting .200 with two homers, nine RBI, and 12 double-play grounders. Duffy, 24, is hitting .297 with two homers and 19 RBI and provides better defense and far better baserunning.
Still, Duffy was stunned when McGehee delivered the news.
“I was surprised by the decision to designate him, but I guess I wasn’t surprised by the way he handled it because he’s been that way with me from the start,” Duffy said. “I feel like with another person, maybe it’d be easy to not point the finger but to have some kind of animosity.”
Duffy said McGehee told him he’s proud of him and pushed him to “keep playing with a chip on my shoulder.” The classy gesture included McGehee giving Duffy his cell phone number and telling him to call if he had any questions or needed anything.
“He’s a really good guy,” Duffy said.
As McGehee contemplated his future, Duffy went out for his first game as the official starter at third base. He was 1 for 4 in a loss to the Rockies. Will the new role alter Duffy’s daily routine at all?
“Nope,” he said quickly. “Nothing. Maybe I’ll do a little less early (drill) work and save more of the workload for games. But as far as mental preparation, nothing changes.”
There will be one subtle change. Duffy, a shortstop in the minors, has played first, second, short and third for the Giants and even has taken fly balls in the outfield. He no longer has to worry about breaking in so many gloves and doing early drills at multiple positions to stay sharp all over the field. It was that work ethic that impressed the Giants as Duffy started to produce on the field. Manager Bruce Bochy said Duffy’s development “certainly played a part” in Sunday’s decision.
“As his playing time has picked up, he’s playing well,” Bochy said. “Last year he handled himself so well with everything we threw at him. This is a tough kid that’s doing very well. I think he’s earned this playing time, to be honest.”