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Notes: Fans ready for Benitez's return

Notes: Fans ready for Benitez's return

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SAN FRANCISCO -- A dash of fury likely will be added to the emotional soup on Friday night when the Florida Marlins begin a three-game series at AT&T Park.

As usual, the likely sellout crowd will urge Barry Bonds toward Hank Aaron's home-run record. But many fans also can be expected to spew venom upon Armando Benitez, the reliever whom San Francisco traded to Florida on May 31.

Before being jettisoned, Benitez became the most reviled Giants player since shortstop Johnnie LeMaster (1975-85), who once took the field at Candlestick Park wearing "Boo" on his jersey where his surname should have been. Fans increasingly perceived Benitez as insouciant, lacking accountability and, of course, just plain ineffective on the mound. Giants management was so eager to drop Benitez that the club agreed to pay all but $333,333 of the remaining $5,066,666 he was due this year.

Benitez blew 12 of 48 save opportunities in his first two seasons with the Giants after signing a three-year, $21 million contract as a free agent in November 2004. The right-hander actually improved that ratio this season by converting nine of his first 11 save chances. But he was 0-3 with a 4.67 ERA when he left the Giants. His final outing for San Francisco was unforgettable in the negative sense, as he balked twice and yielded Carlos Delgado's game-winning home run in a 5-4, 12-inning loss at New York two nights before the trade.

For the record, Benitez hasn't been much better with the Marlins, for whom he has posted a 2-2 record with a 5.23 ERA in 22 appearances. Last Thursday, he inherited a two-run lead in the eighth inning and proceeded to surrender four runs in a 7-5 loss to the Reds. He has blown his only two save opportunities for the Marlins.

Hints of a smile played on the corners of manager Bruce Bochy's mouth Thursday as he was asked whether anything hampered Benitez except the obvious -- that he simply had to go, especially after that Mets debacle. Bochy spoke diplomatically of Benitez and praised his work ethic.

"He saved some games for us, and a couple of times he couldn't [pitch] because of his knees," Bochy said, referring to Benitez's numerous problems with injuries. "It was probably time for a change for Armando more than anything. But he was fine here. I enjoyed my time with him."

Right-hander Randy Messenger, acquired from Florida for Benitez, has thrived since joining the Giants. He entered Thursday with a 1.07 ERA and only six walks in 25 1/3 innings in his first 20 appearances for San Francisco.

Getting the feel: Regaining his form as a hitter has been a gradual process for Rich Aurilia since he overcame his strained neck, which began bothering him in May. Aurilia entered Thursday batting .269 (14-for-52) since returning from the disabled list July 1 -- which actually is an improvement over his .243 season average.

"This is the first time in my career that I felt like an injury really affected my swing," Aurilia said. "I've been trying to find it. I felt fine before I had [the injury]."

Needing the work: After recently suggesting to Bochy that he appear in non-save situations to stay sharp, right-hander Brad Hennessey proved the wisdom of this approach by saving Wednesday night's 2-1 victory. One night earlier, Hennessey pitched a scoreless ninth inning with the Giants trailing, 4-0.

"It has to help to some extent, knowing that it's not been five or six days since I was out there last," Hennessey said. "It helps you have more confidence in the pitches you're trying to make, knowing that you were out there just the other day making them."

Hennessey, who's still gaining experience as a reliever after spending most of his professional career as a starter, added that regular appearances build the "muscle memory" every athlete needs.

"Granted, you play catch before the game and during batting, but actually getting on the mound and having someone stand in there makes a difference," he said.

Coming up: Barry Zito will make his first career appearance against Florida in Friday night's opener of a three-game series at 7:15 p.m. PT. Marlins right-hander Rick Vanden Hurk will oppose Zito.

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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