CINCINNATI -- Armando Benitez will no longer have to mill around the clubhouse wondering when he'll finally get his chance to pitch again. No, there's still no word on precisely when Benitez will get to pitch. But at least the possibility is now there. Benitez was activated from the 60-day disabled list before Monday's game in a move that sent right-hander Brian Cooper to Triple-A Fresno.
And manger Felipe Alou made it clear that Benitez has to start pitching at the big-league level soon. "Now are the real hitters," Alou said. "So we have to go slow and ease him back in. There are no easy jobs in the big leagues, especially with the way the Reds are swinging the bats. "We have to get him ready. To me, this is a big thing for him to come back ahead of time. He was one of the big guys who was out. There was a fear that he was going to lose the entire season. And he's back. That's good news, some of the very little good news we've had all year." Good news, indeed, for Giants fans. Especially since Benitez was coming off his best season in the Majors last year with the Marlins, posting 47 saves and a 1.29 ERA. But Benitez threw just 9 1/3 innings this year before injuring his right hamstring back in late May. Now, 3 1/2 months later, Benitez is cleared to go. "His hamstring has had absolutely no setbacks," said Stan Conte, the Giants' head athletic trainer. "He's passed all the tests we've asked him to do. He's covered first base and bunts, everything else, so we're real pleased with the hamstring." But Benitez won't instantly assume his original role with the club. Alou said he plans on pitching Benitez in close games, if necessary, but not using him as a closer. At the earliest, Alou said Benitez could be shutting down games by the end of the season. "If we push him, then probably, yeah, by September," Alou said of using Benitez as a closer. "But he needs to get stronger. He needs to get his legs stronger, his command sharper." And while that happens, Conte said he won't be resting completely comfortably. "I'll feel much better and more relieved after he gets out there a couple times, but that's true of anyone who's had to rehab," Conte said. "You always hold your breath a couple times." That should be nothing compared to what Benitez has done. The right-hander has been holding his breath since he first injured himself. Now it's only a matter of innings before he finally exhales. Now what? With Benitez's return to the bullpen, Alou will have to figure out what to do with his logjam of quality arms before long. Have any suggestions? Even the Giants skipper wasn't sure how to answer. "What's going to happen now?" Alou asked reporters. "We don't know. We have a setup guy here in [LaTroy] Hawkins. If Benitez comes back and winds up regaining the form and sharpness he needs -- because he needs to pitch to regain that -- then what's going to happen to [closer Tyler] Walker? He's not going to be a long reliever. And Benitez will be the closer." Alou said that Benitez first needs to get back into pitching condition. After that, the manager will figure out what to do with Walker. Odd man out: Cooper was dressed in street clothes before Monday's game, sitting by his locker, enjoying the last few moments with some of his teammates before departing west. Don't think the right-hander was totally depressed by the team's decision to outright him to Triple-A Fresno, though. When asked about his favorite moment up with the club, the 30-year-old quipped back with a reference to his performance against Roger Clemens and the Astros. And it had nothing to do with going toe-to-toe with the Rocket, leaving the game tied after seven innings. "The base hit, probably," Cooper deemed his favorite moment with a smile. "Getting a base hit is a lifelong dream come true. Since I was a little kid, I always wanted to be a position player, and I dreamed about getting that hit." It was in that game that Cooper lasted seven innings and allowed just one run on four hits. Though the team lost, Cooper still carried that start with him out of the Giants' dugout. Cooper finished his stint with the Giants making three appearances -- including the one start -- and posting a 1.80 ERA. "I spent so much time in the Minors going up and down, it's still nice to know that you can get big-league guys out and be confident that you can get the job done," Cooper said. On deck: The Giants continue their road trip Tuesday in Cincinnati with a 4:10 p.m. PT game at Great American Ball Park. Right-hander Jason Schmidt (9-6, 4.29 ERA) will face left-hander Eric Milton (6-12, 6.48 ERA).
Kyle Jepson is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.