Benitez wants to show he still has it
Giants closer says he's near 100 percent and ready for '07
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- It's closing time for Armando Benitez, and the often-injured reliever is ready to make his last stand with the San Francisco Giants.Benitez told MLB.com on Monday, while sitting at his Scottsdale Stadium locker, that in retrospect, he rushed back too soon from a serious right hamstring injury in 2005, a month after he joined the club. That in turn led to the right knee injury that shelved him for the season this past September after he lost his closer's job. "I made a mistake coming back too fast," Benitez said. "I tried to help the team, but I really only hurt myself. That type of injury, that type of surgery, needed time to be 100 percent. It was my own fault. I tried to do too much." Benitez is already working out here, although Giants pitchers and catchers aren't slated to report until Wednesday. He said he's thrown two bullpen sessions of 65 pitches each and claims to be at 95 percent of his health and ability. He said his weight, which topped off at 270 last season, is down to somewhere between 250 and 260. But he pats his ample stomach and says he knows he needs to lose another 10 pounds. "Weighing 270 on bad knees was not a good thing," he said. Benitez begins the last year of his three-year, $21.5 million knowing that it's time to put up or shut up. He has heard all the trade rumors, but he's worked all winter at home in Miami to get himself back into shape with the express purpose of helping the Giants make the playoffs for the first time since 2003. He says has something to prove in San Francisco. "I love to play in San Francisco," Benitez said. "Of all the places I've played in my 13 years in the big leagues, San Francisco is my favorite place. The fans, they boo me sometimes, sure, but they're there every day in the rain and the cold. They just want to see their team win. I want to give them the championship, win the World Series. Celebrate. If they give me the opportunity, I will show them I can do it." Right now, the Giants don't have much of a choice. Save for a trade, Benitez seems to be the last line of defense. He was coming off the best season of his career -- 47 saves in 2004 for the Marlins -- when Giants general manager Brian Sabean opted to sign Benitez as a free agent to fill what has become baseball's most challenging and necessary role.
But on April 27, 2005, Benitez incurred the hamstring injury running to first base at AT&T Park attempting to make the final play of a 6-5 victory over the Padres. Benitez tore a pair of tendons in his right hamstring on the play. During the ensuing surgery, both tendons had to be reattached to the bone with screws. He was immediately projected to miss four months, if not the remainder of the season."People think it wasn't so bad," Benitez said. "But they can believe what they want to believe. Not too many people would've been able to come back so soon from my situation. I had to lie flat on my back for the first five weeks after the surgery. I could not move. I really pushed myself to come back, but I made a mistake." He was back in action that Aug. 18 and recorded 15 of his 19 saves from that point on. But a pair of blown saves in September -- to the Padres at home and to the Dodgers in Los Angeles -- blunted the Giants' belated run at the National League West title. And last year matters were even worse. He blew eight of 25 save opportunities, and as the season deteriorated for Benitez and the Giants, the right-hander lashed out at teammates, at former manager Felipe Alou and at the media. After a string of three blown saves in as many opportunities after the All-Star break, Sabean announced that the team would seek other options. Sabean called the problem then a matter of pitch location. Benitez says now that it was a matter of health, and that made him angry and frustrated. "When I came back in 2005 I was at about 65 percent," Benitez said. "They needed me on the mound. I tried to do my best. The knee began hurting because my hamstring was really not healed. But doing it I hurt both of my knees. So I got upset. What do you think? You know who you are. You know what you can do in the game. "That's what the fans want to see, your teammates want to see and the owner wants to see. That's what everyone wants to see. If you can't do that, you feel bad. I felt bad. I just couldn't do my job. You can't go to the mound on one leg. You need to use both legs. You need to be strong." Benitez says he feels strong now, which is a good thing. He'll have a new manager in Bruce Bochy and a clean slate. But the chances are running out, he also knows. "I want to show the fans, the team and management what Armando is like when he's pitching healthy," he said.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.