Notes: Benitez remains optimistic
Closer feeling good after facing spring's first live hitters
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Facing hitters on Wednesday for the first time since last Sept. 2, Armando Benitez pronounced himself "80-85 percent" healthy, which left him feeling optimistic about pitching productively this season.Last week, Benitez emphasized that he tried to return too quickly from right hamstring surgery in 2005. And he never was at full strength last season, when he blew eight of 25 save chances before inflammation in his right knee ultimately sidelined him. This time, Benitez insisted that he felt no pain, tightness or soreness, although huge ice packs were wrapped around both of his knees as he spoke. "I don't want to hurry," said Benitez, who ranks seventh among active pitchers with 280 saves. "I want to be sure I'm ready. ... Right now, so far so good." Benitez threw live batting practice to Rich Aurilia, Barry Bonds, Dave Roberts and Randy Winn. The hitters rarely swung, mostly continuing to track pitches and readjust to higher velocities on only the second day of full-squad workouts. But Benitez provided the day's highlight by firing a wicked split-fingered fastball that produced a wild, one-handed swing from Bonds. "He thought it was a sinker," Benitez said. Bonds simply watched the next pitch dart by, yelling good-naturedly to Benitez, "You can get me once, but not twice." Proper order: Although Bonds is likely to occupy his customary fourth spot in the Giants' batting order, manager Bruce Bochy didn't completely rule out moving the slugger to the No. 3 position. Batting Bonds third, which would guarantee him a first-inning plate appearance, was something that perpetually intrigued Felipe Alou, the previous Giants manager. It's a potential issue now because the Giants lack a true No. 3 hitter -- although if Bonds were to vacate the cleanup spot, they'd have to fill a hole there. "I know that's something that's been discussed in the past," Bochy said, referring to Bonds and the third spot. "That's something we may talk about, but right now it's not high on the agenda." Taschner's not timid: Pitcher Jack Taschner, among the Giants' critical mid-to-late-inning relievers, says he's "uber-aggressive," ready to attack hitters with a mean mind-set, and 2006 taught him it was a mistake to change who he is. Always an upbeat man -- he's a Type A-plus -- Taschner said his 0-1 record and 8.38 ERA last season were a disaster, and he blamed it all on inexplicable worry and doubt.
"Instead of expecting a spot and pitching like I had earned one, I went into spring walking on eggshells -- tentative of this, tentative on that. There was no aggressiveness. Instead of trying to throw fastballs by everybody like I normally do, I was trying to paint the corners."The velocity dipped, the changeup wasn't as good and the breaking ball got sloppy," said Taschner, who had what he called a "horrendous start" with a 22.85 ERA, giving up 11 earned runs in only 4 1/3 innings. Goodbye San Francisco, hello Triple-A Fresno. "I don't like making excuses," said the left-hander, who turns 29 on April 21. "It was just flat-out bad." With the Grizzlies, he had an attitude adjustment, especially when rookie Jonathan Sanchez was called up to the Giants from Double-A Connecticut ahead of him on May 26. That was really irritating, even if his stats were improving with every outing. "He was lights out -- you couldn't argue with the numbers [2-1, 1,15 ERA] he was putting up," said Taschner. "But that was the trigger for me. I hit a roadblock and there was nothing I could do, and I was staying in Fresno no matter what I did with two lefties already in the 'pen." Called up in September, Taschner was his old, aggressive self over the final 12 appearances, posting a 3.38 ERA and eight scoreless efforts. That's why Taschner says he loves having 34-year-old Steve Kline on the staff this season, because the veteran will keep Taschner's brainwaves surging. "Kline is ultra-competitive -- he wants the ball," said Taschner. "I learned a lesson by trying to paint 91 [mph] on the corner instead of throwing 94, 95 and letting it run. Kliner will keep me that way."