PHILADELPHIA — After hitting his fourth homer last weekend and briefly taking the lead in the Joe Panik-Matt Duffy Home Run Race of 2015, Panik downplayed the competition.
“This isn’t exactly McGwire-Sosa,” he said, smiling.
For the Giants, it’s much better.
Bruce Bochy spent much of his spring answering questions about how he would make up for the power that walked out the door with Pablo Sandoval and Michael Morse. Panik and Duffy have been a surprising solution. The two have four homers apiece after Duffy’s opposite-field blast that was one of three homers in Friday’s 5-4 win over the Phillies and are on pace for 24 combined homers, which would be just 12 off the total from the highly-compensated Sandoval-Morse duo last season. The rest is more than being made up for by the Brandons thus far.
“It’s definitely lengthened the lineup,” Buster Posey said of the power shown by the youngsters. “Duffy has been really fun to watch. He has a great approach. He’s one of those fast-twitch guys — you saw it tonight, he’s got power to all fields.”
The Giants hit all fields Friday, with Duffy going to right, Justin Maxwell hitting the upper deck in left and Posey bombing one to straightaway center to give Tim Lincecum a lead that would hold up. The homers meant something different to each player.
Posey has worked on his stroke over the last week and he felt he wasn’t far off from the kind of swing he displayed Friday.
“It’s great for Buster,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “I know he’s been fighting himself a little at the plate. It’s good for him getting a good swing off like he did there.”
Maxwell has lost most of his playing time since Hunter Pence returned, but with Pence battling tendinitis in his left wrist, Maxwell was thrust back into a starting role. His two-run homer tied the game in the top of the fourth.
Maxwell said he has tried to stay sharp by using a drill that Gregor Blanco pushed on the coaching staff last weekend. Bench players had been hitting soft-toss pitches thrown by hitting coach Steve Decker, but Blanco urged the group to hit off a machine that fires pitches in at a high velocity.
“You’re always trying to find a way to stay sharp and keep a short swing,” Maxwell said.
Duffy turned to a more old-school technique to get his swing back. He felt he was focusing on results over the last week and not the process, so he brought out a trusty book, “The Mental Keys to Hitting” by Harvey Dorfman. He said he always has it with him and pulls it out sometimes to remind himself of what he does well at the plate.
“You know when to kind of let it loose and when to not, I guess,” he said. “I try to keep an approach that doesn’t have me pull-conscious.”
Duffy has three homers on the road this season: One to left at Coors Field, one to dead center in Milwaukee, one to right in Philadelphia. A year after Sandoval slugged .415 at third base for the Giants, Duffy has a .404 slugging percentage for about $16.5 million less.
“I really thought those guys would hit a few more homers with experience,” Bochy said. “We’re not a power-hitting club. You lose a guy like Pablo with his power, but I thought with the lineup we’re throwing out there, we’d hit a few more.”
Duffy has proven to be a solid defender at third base, too, and he got the second out of the ninth by reaching over the stands along the third-base line. The rookie said he thought the ball was a souvenir off the bat, but he has conditioned himself to keep going — just in case — because the wind at AT&T Park brings so many balls back to the field. The contributions came on the same day Casey McGehee was recalled to the big leagues, but after the win Bochy made a point of saying Duffy will continue to get the “lion’s share” of time at third base.
“He’s got such a great way about him,” Bochy said. “He has a great attitude and he wants to do whatever we ask of him. I heard his comment that if Casey plays, he’ll do what he can to help the club. He’s just playing so well. It’s hard to take the kid out.”
That everyday role means Duffy will get every opportunity to keep pace with Panik. Duffy’s career-high for homers in the minors was nine. Panik’s was seven. Here on a much bigger stage, both are taking a run at double-digits.
Game on, right?
“It's like the tortoise and the hare,” Panik said. “Except both of us are tortoises.”