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Panik, Belt set to top lineup vs. righties

MLB.com @sfgiantsbeat

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Giants manager Bruce Bochy ended an offseason of speculation Wednesday by declaring his preference to bat Joe Panik leadoff against right-handed pitchers, followed by Brandon Belt.

"There's no question" about this, Bochy said after the Giants' 4-4, 10-inning Cactus League tie with the San Diego Padres. Bochy's inclinations became clearer in recent weeks as Panik remained a fixture at the top of the order while personnel changed in other spots.

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Giants manager Bruce Bochy ended an offseason of speculation Wednesday by declaring his preference to bat Joe Panik leadoff against right-handed pitchers, followed by Brandon Belt.

"There's no question" about this, Bochy said after the Giants' 4-4, 10-inning Cactus League tie with the San Diego Padres. Bochy's inclinations became clearer in recent weeks as Panik remained a fixture at the top of the order while personnel changed in other spots.

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Spring Training information

This virtually assures that the middle of San Francisco's batting order usually will consist of some combination of Buster Posey, Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria. Left fielder Hunter Pence, shortstop Brandon Crawford and the yet-to-be-named center fielder will complete the lineup.

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Panik, batting .333 in Cactus League exhibitions, welcomed the news.

"I'm going to be hitting in front of a lot of great hitters," he said.

Entering his fourth season as San Francisco's regular second baseman, Panik batted leadoff in 11 starts last year. He hit .295 with a .354 on-base percentage in those games, statistics that were almost identical to the corresponding overall figures of .288 and .347 he compiled.

Video: TEX@SF: Panik launches a leadoff homer to right

Making contact is one of Panik's primary assets. He was the National League's toughest hitter to strike out in each of the previous two seasons.

Belt, the Giants' everyday first baseman, hit only .215 in 32 starts while batting second last year. But his on-base percentage jumped to .362 due to his propensity for drawing walks. This spring, Belt is batting .421 (8-for-19).

By no means is the Giants' batting order established for 2018. Panik occupied every position in the battting order last year but fourth and fifth. His primary habitat was the second spot, where he started 61 games. Belt batted in six different positions, most frequently third (in 44 starts).

"We have guys who are versatile, and I think that's going to help them," Giants hitting coach Alonzo Powell said.

Offseason acquisition Austin Jackson remains a top candidate to enter the lineup and lead off against left-handed starters. Rookie center fielder Steven Duggar, a left-handed batter, also might fill the leadoff spot as he continues to mature.

Chris Haft has covered the Giants since 2005, and for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat and listen to his podcast.

San Francisco Giants, Brandon Belt, Joe Panik