Notes: Benitez gets warm reception
Oft-booed reliever greeted with cheers from fans on Thursday
SAN FRANCISCO -- The surroundings were new on Thursday night for Barry Zito -- and, in a way, for Armando Benitez.After 6 1/2 seasons with the Oakland A's, Zito settled into a different home ballpark by allowing three hits through six innings in the Giants' 4-0 exhibition victory over a Seattle Mariners split squad. "It was definitely different coming out here. But it felt good," Zito said. "In Spring Training it wasn't that different, but here it really hit home because I've been on the other side of the field. It felt good." As impressive as Zito's was, Benitez's outing may have been more stunning -- not for the results, but for the crowd reaction. After prompting fans' wrath by blowing 12 of 48 save chances over the previous two seasons, Benitez heard almost nothing but cheers when he entered the game in the ninth inning. He yielded Rey Ordonez's one-out double but nothing else, and preserved the Giants' first shutout victory of the spring and lowered his exhibition ERA to 1.08. "Sometimes you say something that people don't understand," Benitez said, referring to his previous laments about his knee and elbow injuries and perceived lack of support from within the organization. "It felt good to see the people understand what's going on." Manager Bruce Bochy, who rejoined the team after attending funeral services in Melbourne, Fla., for his mother, Melrose, sounded as though he was cautioning fans to be patient with Benitez. "He's not going to be perfect every time out. We definitely have to understand that," Bochy said. "But he's been close." Zito also aspired to greater heights -- specifically, with his pitch count. After throwing 90 pitches against the Mariners, he went to the bullpen and fired 10 to 12 more. "I'm going to throw at least 100 on Tuesday, so it's important that I get up to that threshold," Zito said, noting that he performed this exercise on several occasions in Spring Training with the A's. First team: The Giants' lineup provided a definite sign that the regular season is fast approaching. Thursday marked the first time that San Francisco used its entire probable Opening Day lineup. The Giants sent seven starters on a handful of occasions during their 30-game Cactus League schedule, but injuries or the need to rest a player or two prevented Bochy from using all of his regulars at one time. First baseman Rich Aurilia's strained groin sidelined him for the previous seven games; otherwise the Giants might have fielded their everyday lineup by now. Aurilia played four innings and contributed a first-inning RBI single before leaving the game for precautionary purposes.
Catcher Bengie Molina pointed out the importance of regulars uniting.
"It's good for us to get used to each other, what we're going to see out there on the field and pick each other up," Molina said.Molina elaborated that playing together not only builds chemistry but teaches players subtleties about one another.
"Hitting behind certain guys, you get used to how they pitch to him and then you go help him hit," he said. "That's how it works -- getting used to every single thing."The regulars meshed well together in the first inning against the Mariners, collecting five consecutive two-out hits. The Giants' two-run output could have been higher, but Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki ended the inning by running down Randy Winn's bases-loaded line drive to right-center field. Big board: AT&T Park's new Mitsubishi Electric Diamond Vision scoreboard captured spectators' attention with its remarkably sharp images and new graphics. "If the A's had a scoreboard like this, I might become an Oakland fan," said Steve Ferguson of Half Moon Bay. "I'm just kidding." "Overall, it's a fantastic improvement," said Nick Freeman of San Francisco. "Perhaps a little bit bright. But it could just take some getting used to." The auxiliary scoreboards displaying pitch velocities and pitch counts were turned off after a few innings after some noticeable inaccuracies were posted, such as Zito throwing some deliveries at 54 mph.
"The scoreboard was tweaked out all day," Zito said.Fun with numbers: Lance Niekro might not even make the Opening Day roster, let alone play regularly this season, but some arcane statistics suggest that he could have a big year. According to John Dewan of ACTA Sports, Niekro is among 36 players who have been identified as primed for "breakout" seasons, based on their performance in exhibition games. To qualify, a player must have a spring slugging percentage that's at least 200 points higher than his career mark. In Niekro's case, he entered Thursday's action with a .651 spring slugging percentage, far exceeding his lifetime figure of .429. Coming up: The Bay Bridge series opens on Friday night, with Oakland visiting AT&T Park. The pitching matchup is an attractive one, featuring young, hard-throwing right-handers Rich Harden of the A's and Matt Cain of the Giants.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. Becky Regan contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.