Welcome Back 'Mando 

Wait a second: how welcome is the imminent return of Armando Benitez? On the radio last night, Felipe Alou said he threw two innings in a minor-league game and looked just OK. Felipe was not turning verbal somersaults. His fastball was mostly 90-91, 92 tops, and his off-speed stuffwas inconsistent. He struck out three, but the opponents were the dregs of the Cubs minor league system.

Felipe has also said that when Benitez returns, which could be as soon as today, he won't immediately be the closer. Worrell will remain there for the time being. That's smart.

If Benitez's velocity is permanently down to the low 90s, something many observers suspected before he tore his hamstring from his -- argh, it hurts just to write this -- pelvic bone last April, it's not the kiss of death. The question becomes, how quickly can he learn to compensate? Almost all power pitchers lose a few MPH on their fastballs; only the really good ones adapt.

Jason Schmidt has been struggling for a year and a half with his new reality. Matt Morris used to throw a lot harder before various injuries; last night's bad inning notwithstanding, he seems to have the right makeup to evolve into a successful high-80s/low-90s pitcher with pinpoint control. Think Livan Hernandez or, if you really want to think big, Greg Maddux.

Often overlooked is that Benitez's repertoire includes a killer split-finger and decent slider. Those two pitches, plus a 90-92 MPH fastball that he knows how to sink, could be more than enough for him to remain an effective closer. The key to watch for: his splitter and slider. If he's hanging them, as he's often done in a Giants uniform, batters will wait for the fastball. If his off-speed stuff has bite and movement, it'll make his diminished fastball look a few MPH faster.

Short-term, I wouldn't be surprised to see Benitez struggle for at least a month or two. The game plan should be to let him pitch in low-leverage situations, preferably more than one inning at a time to stretch out his arm a bit. The Giants may not have that luxury, but if he blows a couple games right away, the boobirds will descend, the negativity may snowball and his season will spiral down the drain.

Who should be demoted? Jack Taschner's the obvious choice: he's not pitching well and he has a minor-league option. Let him get his game together in Fresno. According to today's Chron, Tyler Walker has no more options and would have to pass through waivers before a minor-league demotion. Walker seemed much better in last night's game after some reported one-on-one work with Righetti; if the Giants can nurse him back to decent-ness, he'll be valuable as an emergency closer.

Thanks to Worrell's fine run to start the season, we can honestly welcome back Armando with the hope he has the smarts to realize he's not going to blow batters away anymore.


Small print update: I just found ESPN's player salary charts. They don't quite jibe with the two salary pages I've linked to (Cot's and MLB4U); it looks like ESPN ignores deferred salary, prorates signing bonuses, and gets other stuff just plain wrong (Barry Bonds is listed at $20 M this year even though his option was $18 M and $5 M is deferred). But ESPN has a salary for Jamie Wright ($500,000), which I can't find anywhere else, so I'll use that for now.


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