SCOTTSDALE — Bruce Bochy continues to keep his cards close when asked about his new lineup plans, but a couple of longtime Giants look like they’re trying to force his hand.
Joe Panik and Brandon Belt once again teamed up together atop the lineup, and once again it looked like a natural fit for a team that appears poised to have Andrew McCutchen, Buster Posey and Evan Longoria lined up in the heart of the order.
Panik led off the game against the Angels with a single and swiped second on a busted hit-and-run. He went to third on a grounder to the right side and scored on a wild pitch. Speed is not Panik’s game, but he’s a smart baserunner, and so much of what he does well matches up with the leadoff spot.
Panik had a .347 on-base percentage last season and was the hardest player in the majors to strike out. He’s equally adept at facing lefties and righties, too. Panik hit .290 with a .349 OBP against left-handed pitchers last year and .287 with a .347 OBP against right-handed pitchers.
“I definitely have gotten more comfortable this spring batting leadoff,” Panik said. “The approach is the same, but you are the guy setting the tone. So far I’ve enjoyed it. For me, hitting leadoff, I always think about keeping the same approach, but the more and more I do it, I can definitely see myself in that role.”
Bochy said earlier this week that Panik could remain near the top of the lineup against lefties, even if Austin Jackson — a southpaw crusher — is batting leadoff, and that seems the best option. Hunter Pence has been considered as an option to be the No. 2 hitter, but he’s been searching at the plate all spring, and is batting just .105.
The Giants are trying to embrace more advanced statistics with a new staff, and the new way of thinking for many teams is that your best all-around hitter should bat second. Belt, on many nights, qualifies, at least against right-handed pitching. He had a .375 on-base percentage and slugged .504 against right-handers last season.
In the third inning Saturday, Belt hit a homer that disappeared onto the back field at Scottsdale Stadium. The blast was his second in two games. In the fourth, Panik drew a two-out walk and Belt followed with a hard double down the left field line.
“He smoked that,” Bochy said. “That loop (in his swing) wasn’t as big. It was shorter. It wasn’t quite as loopy. He’s got to feel good about his day today.”
The Giants have two more weeks to nail down their final plans, but it seems pretty clear at this point that they’ll leave the desert having found a pretty good solution atop the lineup.
--- Evan Longoria was out of the lineup for a second straight day because of left ankle/heel tightness. He said the training staff is confident that there are no structural issues. “It just flared up out there during a workout,” Longoria said. It'll be at least a couple more days before he returns.
--- The Giants played split-squads against the Angels and a couple of young starters had a rough go of it. Over in Tempe, Tyler Beede gave up six runs on eight hits in 2 1/3 innings. Beede was sharp early but was knocked out by a barrage of singles. At Scottsdale Stadium, Andrew Suarez was charged with five earned in four innings.
--- Steven Duggar is having a solid spring at the plate, but it’s in center where he’s really opening eyes. Duggar chased down a ball to the right-center wall early in the game and made a strong throw to Panik, who made an equally strong throw to third to cut down a would-be triple. Panik said Duggar’s throw hit him in the perfect spot, allowing him to spin and throw in one motion.
“We all should take as much pride in that as a home run,” Bochy said. “That was perfectly done.”
I’ll say this: It’s an outfield play the Giants would not have made last year. Or the year before. Or the year before that …