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Bochy comfortable with Benitez closing

Bochy comfortable with Benitez as closer

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Time will tell whether the Giants are showcasing Armando Benitez for a trade or renewing their commitment to him. Either way, the embattled right-hander shall remain the team's closer for the foreseeable future.

Manager Bruce Bochy said as much after the Giants' 11-7 exhibition victory Friday over the Colorado Rockies. Brian Wilson, the Giants' other leading candidate to preserve ninth-inning leads, groomed himself for a likely setup role by pitching a perfect eighth inning. Then came Benitez, who allowed a harmless single in a shutout ninth.

"That's the plan right now," Bochy said, confirming that the Giants are leaning toward Benitez as their season-opening closer. "We worked today how it could go. We're getting ready for the year now."

Having made three scoreless one-inning appearances in Cactus League action, a jovial Benitez echoed Bochy's thoughts about preparedness.

"I'm ready to go," Benitez said. Asked if he meant physically as well as mentally, Benitez replied, "Every way I have to be. I'm ready to rumble."

Giants fans have been ready to revolt after watching Benitez blow 12 of 48 save opportunities in the previous two seasons. Benitez was rarely healthy during that span, undergoing hamstring surgery in 2005 before enduring elbow and knee ailments in 2006. Benitez, who has been pressed to defend himself on multiple occasions, again cited his injuries as a factor that fans sometimes ignore.

"People don't understand about what happens with your knee and hamstring," he said. "You can think whatever you want, but it's been real tough. It's been real painful. Now it's different."

The Giants can only hope that things really will be different for Benitez, who's in the final season of a three-year, $21 million contract that he earned after saving 47 games for Florida in 2004.

"The Giants signed me because they know what I can do," Benitez said. "Not because I have a beautiful face; I don't have a beautiful face! They signed me because I can do the job. Nobody wants to be hurt; I had bad luck the first year and the second year, too. I tried to push myself and hurt myself. This is a new year and everything's coming through right now. I'm working to what I'm looking for ... the opportunity to end the game."

Asked if he thought Benitez has closer's stuff, Bochy replied, "Yeah. I think he's been throwing well. He's on track now and he's done a good job every time out there."

That included Friday's game, which was destined to provide a save situation for Benitez until Luis Figueroa's two-run triple in the bottom of the eighth inning gave San Francisco a four-run lead.

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The first three hitters Benitez faced were Minor Leaguers. Throwing mostly sliders, he struck out Russ Johnson, coaxed a broken-bat groundout from Edwin Bellorin and surrendered a single to Jud Thigpen. Jeff Baker, who had three hits and four RBIs in his previous four at-bats, struck out swinging.

All this was watched by a healthy contingent of Major League scouts, including representatives from three teams said to be interested in acquiring Benitez -- Boston, Florida and Seattle. It has been theorized that the Giants will trade Benitez once he proves that he can perform adequately and make Wilson the closer.

"Wilson's got great makeup and he's thrown well," Bochy said, affirming that he'd feel comfortable with the 25-year-old closing games. Bochy added that he'd consider using Wilson as a part-time closer if Benitez needed occasional rest.

By objective standards, Wilson's performance Friday exceeded Benitez's. Unlike Benitez, Wilson faced mostly established Major Leaguers, retiring Cory Sullivan on a groundout, Clint Barmes on a foul popup and Omar Quintanilla on a strikeout.

Wilson's fastball touched 95 mph according to one scout's speed gun. He pitched mostly at velocities ranging between 88-92 mph. Benitez reached 90 mph twice but mostly relied on the slider that checked in at 82 mph.

Those numbers might not suggest a fresh start for Benitez. But the Giants keep insisting that it's under way.

"There's no point in getting distracted with what happened last year. That's last year," Bochy said. "This is a new year. That's the way he has to look at it. He feels good, he's healthy and that's the biggest part of it."

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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