GLENDALE, Ariz. — Joe Panik is hitting .471 this spring. He is swinging the crispest bat in camp.
And nobody, other than Panik, is happier to see it than Giants left-hander Matt Moore.
Lest anyone forget, it was Moore who threw the pitch June 18 in Tampa Bay that struck Panik on the helmet and ultimately sent him to the disabled list with a concussion.
Six weeks later, after the Tampa Bay Rays traded Moore to the Giants, he joined his new team in Philadelphia and was surprised to learn that Panik had just returned to the lineup. He hadn’t realized that the pitch he threw had such a residual impact.
You couldn’t blame Moore for his ignorance. Not only had Panik stayed in that game at Tropicana Field, but he hit a tiebreaking, three-run home run off closer Alex Colome in the ninth inning.
So one of the first things Moore heard when he joined the Giants was someone asking in jest, “Well, are you gonna say sorry to Joe?”
“That’s one of the ways the ice got broken between us,” Moore said. “I felt really bad about it, but he’d obviously moved past it.”
Except he hadn’t. Panik cleared all concussion tests before trainers and doctors cleared him to rejoin the active roster on July 28, but he acknowledged recently that his visual acuity was not in peak form. It helps explain why he hit just .215 after returning.
Panik needed more time before he fully regained his vestibulo-ocular reflex, which is how the brain produces eye movements in the direction opposite to head movements. The reflex action allows the eyes to maintain the visual field, which allows the retinas to capture stabilized images.
Like 95 mph fastballs.
“I was symptom free, but it just took a little time to get back to normal,” Panik said. “I’m seeing the ball well and I feel like I’m able to react. Instead of trying to pick up the ball, I’m just reacting to it, which is what you have to do.”
Panik singled in the Giants’ 4-3 exhibition victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers at Camelback Ranch on Tuesday. Then he motored home from first base on Brandon Belt’s triple. He’s the player that everyone saw as a rookie in the 2014 postseason.
Moore is seeing that player for the first time.
“It’s great for Joe,” Moore said. “It does seem every time I watch his at-bat, he’s putting the barrel on it somewhere. You talk to Joe and it sounds like he’s been playing this game a really long time. He’s very thorough and explains himself well. To see him out there executing his game plan, I’m happy for him that there’s no more side effects.
“Actually, I think I probably get the worst end of it these days, with the jokes and whatnot.”
Said Panik: “In the past couple springs, it took me awhile to find my approach and my stroke. I’m just happy early on in spring I’ve been able to find it. Right now I’ve got it locked in and with my approach, I’m not late on the fastball. I’ve been aggressive. It just feels good to feel normal, like myself again, hitting line drives and hitting the ball hard.”
Moore struck out five and scattered five baserunners in five innings while building to 60 pitches. He received a pair of run-saving stops from third baseman Jae-gyun Hwang.