San Francisco Giants

Giants' Panik staking claim for No. 2 lineup spot

SAN FRANCISCO -- Friday was an all-around good offensive night for the Giants, but the night had by Joe Panik did not get lost in the 13-2 win or 19-hit barrage. Panik went 4-for-6 and scored two runs batting in the second spot. The rookie raised his average to .312 on the season, and he’s batting .391 in August -- the third-highest mark among all major-league hitters.

This is more than the Giants could have expected when they called Panik up in June in hopes that he’d help stabilize their second base situation. Not only has Panik settled in at the position, but he’s performing like a seasoned veteran instead of a 23-year-old kid, and seems to be staking a serious claim to the No. 2 lineup spot as well.

"I’d say so," manager Bruce Bochy said this afternoon when asked if Panik has a tighter hold on that spot than several days ago, when Bochy shuffled things to put Panik second and drop Hunter Pence to fifth. "I mean, when you have a game like that, it’s hard to change it."

Batting Panik second has its advantages. For one thing, Bochy said, it breaks up the left-handed hitters in the Giants lineup -- before it was Michael Morse, then three lefties, then the pitcher’s spot. Also, Panik is more of what you’d call a "traditional" No. 2 hitter than Pence -- "He’s a guy you’re probably going to do a few more things with," Bochy said, "whether it’s a bunt or hit-and-run, things like that. So that gives us an added dimension, so to speak, to this offense."

Bochy also shared an interesting tidbit about the decision to call Panik up in June. Panik hadn’t seemed to be among the players pushing for a roster spot out of spring training, but he was having a good season at Triple-A Fresno and when the Giants were looking for middle infield help after parting ways with Brandon Hicks, Bochy said Panik’s name came up naturally.

“He was a guy that we’d talked about for a couple months, actually, talking about the progress that he made (in Triple-A),” Bochy said. “So he opened up some eyes, and then with our situation, we needed some help ... it was time. Ideally we probably wanted to give him a full season down there, more at-bats. But fortunately we didn’t, and he’s up here helping us.”

Pence, meanwhile, has shown he’s going to hit consistently no matter where he is in the lineup, and in the fifth spot he would ostensibly have more chances to drive runners in. Bochy said that, above all, has been the key to the Giants’ offensive improvements in the past week. They are creating scoring chances by getting runners on base, and even if they aren’t driving in those runners all the time, it was the lack of opportunities overall that hurt them earlier.

Here’s the lineup for tonight’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers, the same as in game one. As Bochy said, if it works, don’t change it:

CF Pagan

2B Panik

C Posey

3B Sandoval

RF Pence

1B Morse

LF Blanco

SS Crawford

P Peavy

And the Brewers’ lineup against Peavy:

CF Gomez

C Lucroy

RF Braun

3B Ramirez

2B Gennett

LF Davis

1B Reynolds

SS Segura

P Fiers

* Brandon Belt stepped into the clubhouse this afternoon looking a little disheveled -- he is, after all, a new dad, and he said Greyson Ellis kept him and wife Haylee up last night feeding from about 2 to 6 a.m.

Belt’s still coming to the park every day, though, getting rehab work in before games. He is likely still 10 days away from resuming baseball activities, Bochy said, but the hope is still that Belt will be able to return this season.

Belt has to start baseball activities again before the Giants start talking about rehab games and how many at-bats he’d need before they brought him back. "We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it," Bochy said.

* Reliever Juan Gutierrez has a "tender shoulder," Bochy said, so the Giants were trying to stay away from using him last night. The offensive outburst helped, allowing Bochy to use George Kontos for two innings in relief of Ryan Vogelsong. Bochy said Kontos can throw an inning again tonight if needed.

* Pablo Sandoval was the first starter taken out Friday night in the blowout, and Bochy said that wasn’t by accident. "I was trying to give him a break," Bochy said. "He’s been out there every day, he’s been grinding hard, and I know he’s probably feeling it a little bit. I was able to give him a break, so that was good."

* Peavy will make his seventh start for the Giants with a good chance at reaching a career milestone. The right-hander is three strikeouts away from 2,000 for his career -- the same mark Tim Hudson reached in his last start. Remarkably, Matt Cain has 1,506 strikeouts in his career -- and there are three current members of the Giants rotation with more.