PHOENIX -– Joe Panik received his big league call-up a little before 2 a.m. in New Orleans on Saturday, and he didn’t hesitate to phone his parents in New York with the news.
“Dad answers the phone in a groggy voice and Mom gets on the speakerphone and asks what’s wrong,” Panik said. “I said, 'This is the first good call you’ll get at 3 a.m.'”
Paul and Natalie Panik went into “The Amazing Race” mode. They immediately booked flights to Arizona, went straight to the airport and made it to Sky Harbor before Joe did.
Everyone arrived by the time the Giants took the field for the pregame stretch -– except Panik’s gamer glove, and the rest of his equipment.
“It’s in … a connecting city,” he said.
He didn’t want to say which one. He’s too nice to throw an entire airline under the bus.
The Giants hope Panik will make plenty of connections in the batter’s box. He already met with Manager Bruce Bochy and although he wasn’t informed of his role, he’s not expected to sit on the bench with second base an open proposition right now.
The club optioned outfielder Juan Perez to Triple-A Fresno. They also designated right-hander Jake Dunning for assignment to clear space for Panik on the 40-man roster.
Panik isn’t in the lineup Saturday as the Giants try to break a six-game losing streak. Bochy wanted to give him time to settle in, and he’ll start at second base on Saturday. Angel Pagan also is out of the lineup for the fifth consecutive game because of his back ailment.
Bochy said the club would wait “a day or two” to see if Pagan comes around before they’d entertain putting him on the disabled list. Pagan took batting practice both in the cage and on the field -- including from the left side, which is impacted more by the back soreness.
Because the Giants have as many second basemen as outfielders (four), Brandon Hicks will start taking fly balls out there.
Why the move now with Panik? Bochy said several scouts who followed Fresno in recent days filed positive reports that the second baseman was “doing a real nice job on both sides,” and his defense has been an asset.
More than anything, though, this is one of those “if it isn’t working, change something” moves.
“Sometimes you get in a rut like this, you make a change and see if you can help the club,” Bochy said.
Panik struggled last season at Double-A Richmond after his big league spring got cut short by a hamstring injury. He said he put on weight while his leg healed, got off to a bad start for the Flying Squirrels and never was able to get on track.
“So this offseason I prepared myself well physically,” said Panik, 23, who was the Giants’ first-round pick (29th overall) in 2011 out of St. John’s University. “I got in shape and I worked on having the right approach. I’ve had a consistent approach and swing. (Fresno hitting coach Andy) Skeels did a great job working with me.”
Panik, 23, was hitting .321/.382/.447 with five home runs in 72 games playing second base for Triple-A Fresno.
He doesn’t wow you with his tools, but he’s a bat control guy who has nearly as many walks (171, 27 this season) as strikeouts (180, 33) over his minor league career. He was drafted as a shortstop but most scouts saw him as a second baseman where his average range and arm play up.
“I didn’t try to press this year,” he said. “I knew if I played my game this year everything would work out.”
One late-night phone call later, it did.
“This is what you dream of as a kid,” he said. “It’s good to take a step back and say, `This is why you’re here now, here to help us.’”
Panik hasn’t worn No.12 since Little League, but his favorite player was Wade Boggs – a fitting idol for a contact hitter – and that was his number. Clubhouse manager Mike Murphy wasn’t aware of that, but perhaps it was the number Panik was meant to wear.