6/27/2014 10:54 P.M. ET
Panik, Hicks working through struggles
By Ryan Hood / MLB.com
SAN FRANCISCO -- Turning to a player who has one hit in his last 24 at-bats to provide a spark against the starting pitcher with the Majors' lowest ERA isn't conventional, but that's what manager Bruce Bochy did on Friday.
With Cincinnati's Johnny Cueto bringing his 1.86 ERA to the mound, Brandon Hicks was in the lineup, his first start since June 18.
Bochy had been sitting Hicks to settle him down after sensing that the second baseman was pressing in an effort to break out of his slump (eight hits in his last 26 games). Bochy then deemed Friday the right time to see what, if any, progress Hicks has made.
"I think Joe Panik could use a break," Bochy said. "[Hicks is] going through a tough time right now, so hopefully the off-time has helped. We're looking for a shot in the arm right now. He did that for us earlier. Hopefully he can find that again."
Hicks' batting average was last above .200 on May 20, but his hits, while rare, had an impact -- two-out RBIs and home runs. But as May became June, the hits disappeared altogether and the strikeouts mounted; seventy-three of his 194 at-bats have been K's. Entering Friday he was hitting just .170 with eight home runs and 22 RBIs.
Hicks believes that the week spent in the batting cages will be evident, since he's attempted to rework his mechanics in the cage instead of while in the batter's box, which had previously been the case.
"You get in trouble when you're thinking about mechanics and that [stuff] whenever you're in the box," Hicks said. "You want to do good out there, and whenever you're struggling, you try to do more, which gets you in even more trouble, but I feel good, and I'm ready to go."
Panik has experienced a few lapses of his own during his first week in the Majors. A dropped throw to second base on Thursday was his third error through six games, and he's 2-for-16 at the plate.
Panik was initially overwhelmed by the enormity of the Major League crowd but said on Friday that his nerves have subsided.
"You're not going to come in and be a Hall of Famer right away," Panik said. "It's tough, because you don't want to do that right away, and you want to show them what you've got."
Hicks praised Panik's composure and believes it's just a matter of time until he has more success at this level.
"He made one or two errors, but if you watch him, you can't tell he made an error, because he keeps it all together pretty well," Hicks said. "He'll be fine; I think it's just a little jitters."
Belt making progress in rehab
SAN FRANCISCO -- Manager Bruce Bochy had a chance to talk with Brandon Belt after Belt's first rehab start and liked what he heard.
Belt, who broke his left wrist on May 9, served as the designated hitter on Thursday and went 1-for-3.
"He said he felt good, so we'll see how it goes in pregame warmups," Bochy said when asked if Belt would play the field on Friday. If not Friday, Bochy added, there was a good chance Belt would start at first on Saturday.
The plan is for Belt to remain with San Jose through Sunday and continue his rehab with Triple-A Fresno on Monday. Bochy preached patience, though, saying that Belt won't be joining the Giants for next weekend's series in San Diego.
"He needs at-bats right now. He's missed a lot of time," Bochy said. "Even though he feels good with the hand, it takes a while to find the timing that you're going to need to hit Major League pitching. We're looking for him to get quite a few games down there with the bat."
A return around July 4 seems most likely for Belt, who has hit nine home runs and driven in 18 runs in 35 games this season.
Pence a worthy All-Star candidate
SAN FRANCISCO -- With online-only voting for the 2014 All-Star Game commencing on Thursday, the balloting is coming down to the wire. And although the Giants have the National League's second-best record, they have no players atop their respective position in the voting.
Each of the team's three starting outfielders is in striking distance of the current would-be starters, with Angel Pagan in seventh, Michael Morse in eighth and Hunter Pence 10th.
Pence trails third-place Carlos Gomez by roughly 1.3 million votes, but his consistency -- especially with the rest of the team mired in a slump -- has made him a worthy candidate for inclusion.
Although the Giants have maintained throughout the season that they don't care about All-Star appearances, Pence has a case to make a third squad. His .295 batting average is his highest since 2011. He's batting .339 with three home runs and six RBIs in his last 13 games and is tied for the most multihit games in the NL. with 28.
Fans can cast their votes for starters at MLB.com -- online or on a mobile device -- using the 2014 All-Star Game MLB.com Ballot Sponsored by Experian until Thursday, July 3, at 8:59 p.m. PT. The 2014 All-Star Game will be played at Target Field on Tuesday, July 15, on FOX.
Ryan Hood is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.