Joe Panik gets cortisone shot for lower back injury

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Joe Panik has been held out of the Giants’ lineup since Saturday because of lingering inflammation in his lower back, and it doesn’t sound like the young second baseman is close to returning to action.

An MRI taken earlier this week ruled out anything major, but Giants trainer Dave Groeschner told Andrew Baggarly of the San Jose Mercury News on Wednesday that Panik has been administered a cortisone injection. The shot should help Panik get over the back discomfort, but it’s likely to extend his absence a little further. Kelby Tomlinson filled in at second base Wednesday and went 2-for-4 with three RBI in San Francisco’s defeat of the Braves.

Panik, 24, owns a cool .309/.374/.443 slash line 97 games this season for the Giants.

More position players have pitched this year than ever

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Yesterday, in Milwaukee, utilityman Hernan Perez pitched two scoreless innings, and backup catcher Erik Kratz pitched one himself, mopping up in a blowout loss to the Dodgers. In doing so they became the 31st and 32nd position players to pitch this season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that is the most position players who have taken the mound in a season in the Expansion Era, which began in 1961. Presumably far fewer ever did so when the league had only 16 teams.

It’s pretty remarkable to set that record now, in this age of 13 and sometimes 14-man pitching staffs. That’s especially true when teams shuttle guys back and forth from the minors more often than they ever have before and when, due to the shortened, 10-day disabled list, it’s easier to give guys breaks because of “injuries” than it ever has been.

Pitcher usage is driving this, however. While teams carry far more relievers than they ever have before, they actually carry far fewer swingmen or mopup men who are capable of throwing multiple innings in a blowout to save other pitchers’ arms. Rather, teams focus on max-effort, high-velocity relievers who go one or two innings tops, thus requiring catchers and utility guys to help do the mopping that actual pitchers used to do.

I don’t know if that’s a bad thing necessarily — some of these backup catchers throw harder than a lot of pitchers did 30 years ago and it’s always kind of fun to see a position player pitch — but it is yet another way the game has changed due to a focus on specialization and velocity when it comes to pitchers.