Better version of Panik in the making

Giants second baseman setting high standards for 2017

Better version of Panik in the making

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Given Joe Panik's array of accomplishments, improving means excelling.

Panik made the National League All-Star team in 2015. Last year, the Giants second baseman won a Gold Glove Award and established himself as the toughest player in the Major Leagues to strike out.

So when Panik says, as he did Thursday, that he wants to "just get back to being myself, and a better version of myself," he'd have to reach a truly elite level to achieve that goal.

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Panik has weathered significant injuries while compiling his impressive credentials. A stress fracture forced a premature conclusion to his season in 2015, when he batted .312. Last year, he sustained a concussion when future teammate Matt Moore beaned him with a pitch during a June 18 game against the Rays at St. Petersburg. That caused Panik to miss 23 games. He finished the regular season with a .239 batting average, a 73-point drop from the previous year and 70 points below his career average entering 2016.

Joe Panik calls in to Hot Stove

Panik regained his typical stroke by season's end. He went 6-for-10 in the National League Division Series against the Cubs, a binge that included a run-scoring double in the 13th inning to win Game 3. Chicago clinched the series the next night with its now-infamous (from San Francisco's perspective) Game 4 comeback.

"That wasn't the team result I was hoping for," Panik said. "It ended way too soon for all of us."

This was especially true for Panik. He went 2-for-3 in the finale against the Cubs, cementing his conviction that he had regained his hitting stroke. That happy thought initially entered his mind in Game 2, when he lined an opposite-field double off Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks. Said Panik, "It really gave me the feeling, 'You know what? You still can hit.'"

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Giants hitting coach Hensley Meulens has no doubt about that.

"When he returned, he still had mild concussion symptoms," Meulens said. "He wasn't over it. We knew that. He wasn't seeing the ball very good; we knew that as well. So, obviously your swing isn't going to come out the same. ... But he's over that now. I'm giving him a rain check. I know he's a lot better than that. I expect him to bounce back and hit .300 again. Or somewhere around that."

Speaking without a trace of conceit, Panik indicated that he maintains a high performance standard for himself.

"I know what level I played at in the past," he said. "It's about refining my skills, getting my two-strike approach back, and being willing to fight in the box."

This attitude helps Panik avoid striking out, an indignity he endured once every 11.19 plate appearances last year.

"I kind of take it personally when I get up to the batter's box," said Panik, 26. "When I go up there, I'm looking to put the ball in play, and put it in play with some authority. A lot of it has to do with preparation. You have to know what [pitchers are] trying to do with two strikes."

A lot of it also has to do with Panik's sheer diligence.

"I'm always out there to prove myself," he said.

Chris Haft has covered the Giants since 2005, and for since 2007. Follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.