Notes: Sweeney on roster bubble

Notes: Sweeney on roster bubble

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Mark Sweeney needed a day like this. He might need a few more to make the Giants' Opening Day roster.

Batting .147 (5-for-34) entering Saturday, Sweeney doubled in the sixth inning and delivered a two-run homer in the eighth in the Giants' 3-2 exhibition loss to the Chicago Cubs. He thus made up some ground between himself and his two apparent rivals for the last roster spot -- Jason Ellison (.438 batting average) and Lance Niekro (.324).

Sweeney's value as a player extends beyond his prowess off the bench, which has made him history's fifth-most prolific pinch-hitter (tied with Dave Hansen). The first baseman-outfielder is not just an ordinary 37-year-old trying to hang on for a 13th Major League season. He's one of the most popular figures in the clubhouse, sharing a rapport with rookies and veterans alike.

Sweeney didn't get carried away with his resurgence at the plate.

"I've felt good before," he said. "Swinging out of the strike zone's not good and I've done that a lot."

Although Sweeney sounded grim, he was anything but down.

"Without sounding cocky," he said, "I know what I can do."

Accustomed to competing for roster vacancies, Sweeney wouldn't hazard a guess on what his immediate future holds.

"It's not my job to have a gut feeling," he told reporters. "That's overthinking. That's for you guys to do."

In mourning: Melrose Bochy, manager Bruce Bochy's mother, died Friday night in Florida after a long illness. She was 78.

Services will be held Wednesday. Bruce Bochy said that he'll leave the team after Sunday's exhibition against San Diego to join his family. Bench coach Ron Wotus will manage the team in Bochy's absence.

Zito, Benitez in control: Although Barry Zito absorbed the decision in the Giants' 11th exhibition loss in 14 games, he had no complaints about his four-inning outing.

Working on three days' rest, one fewer than usual, to stay on schedule for his Opening Day start April 3 against San Diego, Zito allowed two hits, including Aramis Ramirez's homer leading off the second inning.

Zito also issued one walk, bringing his Cactus League total to six over 17 innings. That's a more favorable ratio than he maintained last season, when he walked 99 in 221 innings.

"When I'm aggressive in the zone, I tend to have more dominant games," said Zito, who threw 41 strikes in 61 pitches. "When I'm falling behind and nitpicking, the games go the wrong way for me. The key for me is to be aggressive at all times, no matter if you're getting hit, because the other team can sniff out when you're starting to let down and be tentative."

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Projected closer Armando Benitez took the same approach, striking out one batter in a perfect ninth inning. Benitez, who has allowed one run in six one-inning exhibition appearances, threw seven strikes in 11 pitches. His velocity remained relatively low -- 88-91 mph, according to one scout -- as he used mostly off-speed pitches.

Lingering effect: Noah Lowry admitted that the right oblique muscle he strained in last season's home opener might still be affecting him -- not physically, but mechanically. The left-hander is still struggling to find a consistent release point.

"Last year, with my whole side thing, I think I got into some bad habits with the way I was throwing, maybe overcompensating," Lowry said. "Now that I'm healthy and trying to get back to where I was in years past, that's just taken a little bit more time."

Lowry, whose ERA ballooned to 6.87 when he allowed the Cubs five runs in five innings, expressed confidence that he'll be fundamentally sound when the season begins.

"Some guys are ready to go; me, I might need a start or two more, another bullpen or whatever it may be just to make sure I'm on," Lowry said.

Coming up: The Giants travel to Peoria on Sunday for their lone exhibition against the San Diego Padres, their National League West rivals. To keep their starting pitchers on schedule and give several relievers some much-needed work, the Giants are plugging non-roster right-hander Scott Atchison, who's competing for a bullpen spot, into the starting role. He'll oppose right-hander Jack Cassel.

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