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Notes: Benitez continues fine form

Notes: Benitez continues fine form

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Any lingering doubts about Armando Benitez's status as the Giants' closer may have dissolved Monday as he retired all four batters he faced to preserve San Francisco's 3-2 exhibition victory over the Chicago White Sox.

Benitez inherited a bases-loaded, two-out jam from Steve Kline and retired Gustavo Molina on a fly to left field to end the eighth inning. Benitez struck out Victor Mercedes, a Minor Leaguer, to open the ninth before retiring two legitimate big leaguers, Darin Erstad (groundout) and Tadahito Iguchi (three-pitch strikeout).

Giants general manager Brian Sabean wouldn't comment on trade talks involving Benitez, who has been the subject of numerous rumors. But one potential Benitez suitor, the Florida Marlins, obtained Jorge Julio from Arizona to fill their closer vacancy. Moreover, Sabean's remarks regarding Benitez's 1.23 ERA in seven Cactus League outings reflected the Giants' reborn faith in him.

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"I haven't seen him throw this well since he closed the first game in 2005," Sabean said. "He has confidence in all his pitches, good 'down' angle and depth. I think he has a good chemistry going with [catcher Bengie] Molina. We obviously know he's healthy -- which is a plus, because it is a safer bet than somebody like [Brian] Wilson, who's never done it."

Benitez has allowed seven hits in 7 1/3 innings, but he has walked none and struck out nine while demonstrating command of all four of his pitches -- sinkerball, slider, split-fingered fastball and straight fastball.

"All of them are quality pitches," Molina said. "He's a true closer. He's not a joke."

A relaxed Benitez downplayed his effort -- "What's more important is the real game," he said -- and estimated that he's at 90 percent of full health after enduring knee and elbow problems last season.

Benitez indicated that his peace of mind stems partly from his cordial relationship with manager Bruce Bochy. Felipe Alou, Bochy's predecessor, clashed with Benitez last season.

"I respect him," Benitez said. "Bochy has only one face; you know that, too. If he has to talk to you, he comes to talk to you. This is the kind of manager I like. He gave me the opportunity to do my job; I'll try to do the best I can."

Eventful win: After losing 11 of their previous 14 exhibitions, the Giants needed a game like Monday's.

They came close to fielding their Opening Day lineup, with only first baseman Rich Aurilia (groin) missing. Center fielder Dave Roberts (sprained joint near chest) and second baseman Ray Durham (right hamstring) played for the first time since last Wednesday and left the game early for precautionary reasons.

Matt Cain looked ready for the regular season, allowing one run and four hits in six innings. Cain has walked five batters in 24 1/3 Cactus League innings, fulfilling an offseason goal of improved control.

"I'd rather them get a hit than put them on first," he said. "It's more of a mental thing -- just challenge guys and be confident that my stuff will get them out."

The game also featured minor oddities. Free-swinging Pedro Feliz, whho entered the game with a higher batting average (.328) than on-base percentage (.317), drew his first walk of the spring. Early in the game, Kline handled the batboy's chore of bringing fresh supplies of baseballs to plate umpire Kerwin Danley.

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Lincecum honored: One day after being sent to Minor League camp, right-hander Tim Lincecum was selected as this year's Harry S. Jordan Award winner in a vote by his teammates.

The award, named for a longtime Minor League trainer, recognizes the player in his first big-league camp whose performance and dedication best exemplifies the Giants spirit.

Sabean said that Lincecum, 22, was "in some ways better than advertised" during his first Major League camp. Lincecum, the Giants' No. 1 selection in last June's First-Year Player Draft, was 1-0 with a 6.43 ERA in three Cactus League appearances.

"Once you see a guy more in person, you continually get a feel for his athleticism and body language," Sabean said. "We knew what his stuff was coming in and we got to see that more firsthand. Then his overall command was impressive when he went after Major League hitters. He's very aggressive in the strike zone. He belives in his stuff and he's not going to back off."

Roster moves: The Giants trimmed their roster to 34 players by reassigning right-handers David Cortes and Tyler Walker to Minor League camp.

Cortes, 33, launched a respectable bid for a bullpen spot. He recorded a 2.45 ERA, but opponents batted .308 against him.

Walker's demotion was procedural, since he's still recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery last July.

"I think I'm a little bit ahead of where I wanted to be," said Walker, who has begun throwing off a bullpen mound and hopes to pitch in extended Spring Training games by mid-to-late May.

Walker, a native San Franciscan who saved 23 games for the Giants in 2005 before being traded to Tampa Bay last April, is thankful to receive a second chance with his hometown team.

"Being around this group has made it easier," Walker said. "If I'm having a rough day, these guys are here to pick me up."

Walker, 30, doesn't intend to rush his progress, so he wouldn't predict when he might return to the Majors.

"I want to be right when I come back to the big leagues," he said. "You get evaluated with your first pitch."

Melrose Bochy: Bochy left the team to join relatives for the funeral of his mother, Melrose, who died last Friday after a long illness.

Visitation for Mrs. Bochy will be held Tuesday evening at 6 ET at South Brevard Funeral Home, 1001 South Hickory St., in Melbourne, Fla. A funeral service is scheduled for Wednesday at 11 a.m. ET at the same site.

Donations in Mrs. Bochy's honor can be sent to: First Baptist Church of Melbourne, Building Fund, 3301 Dairy Road, Melbourne, Fla., 32904; or Brevard Alzheimer's Foundation, 4676 N. Wickham Road, Melbourne, Fla., 32935.

Coming up: San Francisco confronts Seattle on Tuesday in Peoria. The Giants have struggled overall in the Cactus League but not against Seattle. They're 4-0 against the Mariners, including 3-0 in split-squad games. Right-hander Matt Morris will oppose Mariners left-hander Horacio Ramirez.

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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