Series of key injuries tests first-place Giants’ resiliency

Panik latest to go down, but club isn’t panicking

- Jorge L. Ortiz @jorgelorti­z USA TODAY Sports

Half of the San Francisco Giants’ homegrown infield is watching from the sidelines. Their right field is patrolled by a three-player tag team that includes two rookies. The fourth spot in their rotation belongs to a 26-year-old rookie who spent nine seasons in the minors. The bullpen lacks shut-down options in the late innings.

Is this any way to spread that even-year magic?

The Giants’ march toward more October glory, which at times seemed preordaine­d as they built an eight-game margin in the National League West with a 32-10 stretch, will be put through a severe test of resiliency as they deal with key injuries.

Tuesday’s announceme­nt that All- Star second baseman Joe Panik would need further tests after experienci­ng concussion symptoms heightens the sense that not all is well with the Giants despite their two-month ride atop the division.

Panik, who was beaned June 18 but kept playing after passing concussion exams, was placed on the seven-day concussion disabled list on Wednesday. He joins third baseman Matt Duffy (Achilles strain) and right fielder Hunter Pence (hamstring strain) as lineup mainstays on the disabled list. Starter Matt Cain and setup man Sergio Romo are there as well.

Their absences accentuate the challenges inherent in a 162game season and the need to be resourcefu­l. Duffy pointed to last season’s St. Louis Cardinals, who overcame a rash of ailments to win 100 games and the NL Central crown.

“They won a ton of games last year. They weren’t just the wild card,” Duffy said. “That’s what you’ve got to do to get into the playoffs. Your guys are going to go down. You have to find a way to win games still. We’ve done an outstandin­g job of that.”

Less so recently. Losing inspiratio­nal and highly productive Pence at the beginning of the month did not prevent the Giants from winning 12 of 13 games from June 11 to June 24, as the starting pitching shined behind outstandin­g work by Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto.

But San Francisco has lost three of its last four since then, and Tuesday’s 13-11 defeat vs. the Oakland Athletics was especially troubling, with the visitors from across the bay twice erasing three-run deficits and scoring eight runs in the final two innings. It was the third time in a row the Giants allowed at least seven runs, dooming the club to its first loss since 2010 in a game in which it scored in double figures.

The recent slippage has come against losing teams, as the Giants are in the midst of a spell in which they play 29 consecutiv­e games against clubs that are currently under .500. They don’t face a winning team until they pay a visit to the Boston Red Sox on July 19-20.

“We’re in first place, so teams are going to come in and try to give us their best game. We can’t take any teams or any games lightly, not that we have,” center fielder Denard Span said. “You just can’t assume that since we’re playing a team that’s under .500 that it’s going to be an easy win. That’s still a big-league ballclub on the other side of the field.”

San Francisco has gone 35-17 against such opponents, a major reason for its 49-30 record. A big factor has been contributi­ons from unexpected sources such as Conor Gillaspie and Ramiro Pena, who are filling in for Duffy and Panik, respective­ly. Likewise, Venezuelan right-hander Albert Suarez has proved serviceabl­e (3.83 ERA) in replacing Cain, who is expected back shortly after the All-Star break.

“When you’re missing guys like Pence and Duffy, core players you’re counting on to play pretty much every day, that’s when it comes down to your bench,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “And I’ve said this so many times, that’s why the bench is so important to you.”

Bochy also has patched the bullpen void left by Romo’s elbow injury by matching up his late-inning options, but it didn’t work Tuesday, especially in a five-run eighth inning. Closer Santiago Casilla faltered again, yielding three runs in a non-save situation in the ninth.

Although Romo might return this week, the bullpen concerns point to the addition of a reliever as an even more pressing need than an outfielder to make up for Pence’s absence, which figures to extend for another month. Veteran Gregor Blanco and rookies Jarrett Parker and Mac Williamson have filled in for him.

Bigger names such as trade candidates Ryan Braun and Josh Reddick have been mentioned, but nothing seems imminent beyond the club summoning Ruben Tejada from Class AAA to add infield depth in Panik’s absence.

General manager Bobby Evans, noting the Giants are in the middle of a stretch of playing on 20 consecutiv­e days, said their six-game lead over the Los Angeles Dodgers won’t dissuade him from looking for ways to bolster the roster.

“There’s a sense of urgency the players have, the coaches have, the front office also has,” Evans said. “We’re going to continue to be mindful of opportunit­ies that may come our way. You can’t force opportunit­ies. You just have to at least try to understand what the opportunit­ies are then respond.”

 ?? KELLEY L. COX, USA TODAY SPORTS ?? Pitching coach Dave Righetti, left, and catcher Buster Posey talk with Jeff Samardzija during Tuesday’s loss to the Athletics.
KELLEY L. COX, USA TODAY SPORTS Pitching coach Dave Righetti, left, and catcher Buster Posey talk with Jeff Samardzija during Tuesday’s loss to the Athletics.

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