Notes: Reassembling the bullpen

Notes: Reassembling the bullpen

PITTSBURGH -- Forty-eight hours after learning that closer Armando Benitez will be out for what is expected to be four months with a hamstring injury, the Giants were beginning to formulate their course of action in assembling a patchwork bullpen.

Benitez, the 2004 National League saves leader while with Florida, was signed in the offseason to a $21.5 million contract, brought in to stabilize the closer position. Without him until perhaps September, the Giants will have to adjust.

"I'm going to go inning by inning, trying to make it through to the ninth inning," said manager Felipe Alou. "I don't have any plan but to manage the last three innings the way we -- the pitching coach and myself and the pitchers themselves -- see what is the best way we can do it until there is that clear answer."

It's not as if the Giants' bullpen was setting the league on fire even before Benitez hurt himself covering first base on the final play of Tuesday night's 6-5 victory over the San Diego Padres.

Benitez, who owned a 2.85 career ERA over nine-plus seasons with five teams heading into this season, had a 5.79 ERA thus far in 2005. And as Alou shrewdly noted, Benitez entered the game in the eighth inning in his last two appearances.

"We have eighth-inning problems, not only closing problems," said Alou.

But Giants relievers, on the whole, have been rebounding since a rough start to the season. Through April 13, the San Francisco bullpen combined for a 10.01 ERA. In the last 14 games, the relief corps posted a 2.06 ERA and has limited opponents to a .198 batting average. Though the bullpen ranks only 10th in the National League, with a 4.46 ERA, that mark has dropped 5.55 points in the last two-plus weeks.

Right-hander Matt Herges, who saved 23 games for the Giants last season after Robb Nen got hurt, will likely team with 42-year-old lefty Jeff Fassero in handling the closer's role.

Though Alou would certainly welcome longer outings by his starters, saving him an inning or two while he figures out how to navigate the bullpen, he said that he will not let the relief situation affect how he handles his starters.

"The starters aren't going to go longer [into games]," he said. "I'm going to leave them alone. When a move needs to be made with a starter, we will make it. I am not going to change how long I leave them in."

Bad blood: The feud between former Cleveland Indians teammates Jose Mesa and Omar Vizquel could come to a head this weekend in Pittsburgh.

   Omar Vizquel  /   SS
Born: 04/24/67
Height: 5'9"
Weight: 185 lbs
Bats: S / Throws: R

Vizquel wrote a book in 2002 that included a brief passage blaming Mesa, now a closer with the Pirates, for losing Game 7 of the 1997 World Series. Vizquel is playing in the National League for the first time since signing a free-agent contract with San Francisco in the offseason.

Mesa was highly offended, and told reporters that he would hit Vizquel every time he faced him and threatened to "kill him" if Vizquel charged the mound. Mesa hit Vizquel with a pitch during the 2002 season, while Mesa was with the Philadelphia Phillies.

With the Giants facing the Pirates six times in the next two weeks, odds are that the two will face each other at some point.

"I'm feeling good about the chances I have against him," said Vizquel. "I don't know if he is going to hit me or not. Obviously, I'm expecting to get hit because of some comments he said before. But it's nothing real big. I would take it as a man, I guess."

In recent published comments, Mesa has backed off, and though Vizquel stands by his comments in his book, he sounded ready to bury the hatchet.

"I don't have any anger toward him," said Vizquel. "He said that he wasn't going to take any apologies, so I am not going to go out there and apologize for what I said. Whatever the results come out, let it be."

Still, Vizquel quipped that it's better to be safe than sorry.

"I'll probably take the whole catching gear out there," he said. "My knee pads, everything."

Leaning toward the left: The Giants are scheduled to face three left-handed starters in a row this weekend against the Pirates (Mark Redman, Dave Williams and Oliver Perez). Though the Giants are only 3-3 against southpaws this season, they are batting .323 against them, the third-best mark in the National League.

Whereas Edgardo Alfonzo was hitting a robust .611 (11-for-18) against lefties after singling off Redman in the first inning of Friday night's game, no one could benefit more from the steady diet of lefties than Moises Alou.

The veteran outfielder was hitting only .154 before Friday and was 6-for-20 since being activated from the 15-day disabled list on April 22. He is a career .325 hitter against left-handers, 34 points better than his average against righties.

Felipe Alou acknowledged that facing left-handers will help his son but added that to cure what ails him is much simpler than that.

"Sure, it will be nice to get him more at-bats against lefties, but it will nice to get him at-bats against everybody," said the skipper. "Lefties, righties, batting practice pitchers ... you need to get more at-bats. He missed two weeks with no at-bats."

Moises had only six at-bats to begin the season before going on the disabled list with a strained right calf, and Felipe believes that Moises' struggles will be rectified once he shakes the early-season rust.

"In Spring Training, I didn't give [older] guys like him a lot of at-bats," said Felipe. "You don't want veteran guys to get tired in Spring Training. He just needs some at-bats."

On deck: The Pirates and Giants will continue their three-game series on Saturday night at PNC Park. Lefty Noah Lowry will make his fifth start of the season against fellow southpaw Williams. Lowry, 24, has never faced Pittsburgh, whereas Williams has a 10.57 ERA in three career appearances against San Francisco.

Chris Adamski is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.