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Wednesday, September 13, 2006
Closing up shop: Giants' Benitez done for season

Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO -- San Francisco closer Armando Benitez is done for the season with inflammation in his right knee.

Relief Pitcher
San Francisco Giants

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The Giants planned to place the right-hander on the 60-day disabled list Thursday, after the club said Tuesday it hoped he could come back before the end of the year. Benitez returned to Miami on Wednesday to begin physical therapy.

To fill the roster spot, San Francisco will purchase the contract of right-hander Billy Sadler from Triple-A Fresno -- though he has been home in Florida since the Grizzlies' season ended. The Giants expect the pitcher to be in town for Thursday's afternoon game, the series finale against the Colorado Rockies.

Benitez had been unable to pitch for eight straight games because of sore knees. By making the move now, the Giants hope he will be ready by spring training.

"We were kind of on the fence which way to go," trainer Stan Conte said. "He won't be back this year. We're optimistic for him regaining strength and getting the knee calmed down."

Benitez was examined on Monday's off day by 49ers doctor Michael Dillingham, who has experience with arthritis cases. Dillingham recommended rehabilitation rather than an operation to clean up the joint. The 33-year-old Benitez, in his second season with the Giants and 13th in the big leagues, had been scheduled to begin a strength and physical therapy program soon.

Benitez, a two-time All-Star who ranks seventh among active closers with 280 career saves, went 4-2 with a 3.52 ERA and 17 saves in 25 opportunities this season. He is signed through the 2007 season after agreeing to a $21.5 million, three-year contract, in November 2004.

The Giants acquired him to stabilize the club's closer role that had been in flux since Robb Nen got injured during the team's 2002 World Series season.

Now, the Giants might opt to try to trade him as they overhaul their roster this winter.

"We've seen glimpses but all the physical things have taken a toll," general manager Brian Sabean said of Benitez's potential. "He's under contract. I'll leave it at that."

Benitez's tenure in San Francisco has been plagued by injuries. Last season, Benitez underwent surgery to reattach two torn hamstring tendons to his pelvis. But Benitez recovered more quickly than expected and pitched again late in the year. He missed time earlier this season with a left knee injury.

Conte said Benitez has dealt with knee problems since 1999 and the latest setback probably has nothing to do with the hamstring injury last year. The Giants would like to see him drop 10-15 pounds from his 6-foot-4, 260-pound frame.

"Armando is a big man," Conte said. "I don't think the cause of his problems is his weight. This isn't a matter of lack of work. This guy works."

Manager Felipe Alou stood by the embattled Benitez during his recent struggles, which included three straight blown saves during one stretch in July. Benitez was booed almost every time he took the mound in the Giants' waterfront ballpark, though he said the fans had a right to their opinion even though he often was pitching in close games and had some hard luck.

"The loss is big," Alou said.

Veteran left-hander Mike Stanton has been pitching the ninth inning in Benitez's place, converting saves in five of his last eight outings.

Sadler was called up over 2006 first-round draft pick Tim Lincecum, a right-hander out of the University of Washington who has been pitching for Class-A San Jose. Sadler went a combined 5-3 with 21 saves and a 2.43 ERA in 51 games with Double-A Connecticut and Fresno.

Reliever Vinnie Chulk, who came out of Tuesday's game with a groin injury, did some throwing off the mound and is expected to be available to pitch Thursday. Right-hander Brian Wilson, unavailable since Sept. 4 because of soreness in his right side, threw off flat ground with no pain and was scheduled to pitch a bullpen session Thursday.