He's swinging away less than a month after surgery

Updated: February 27, 2005, 6:48 PM ET
Associated Press

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Barry Bonds' surgically repaired right knee is getting stronger every day. So is his desire to get back in action with the San Francisco Giants.

Barry Bonds
AP Photo/Eric RisbergBarry Bonds faced live pitching Sunday for the first time this spring, facing nine pitches from new closer Armando Benitez.

Less than four weeks after arthroscopic surgery, the slugger surprised his teammates and coaches by jumping into the batting cage Sunday. He faced nine pitches from new closer Armando Benitez at the club's spring training stadium.

Bonds only took a couple of swings, sending hard grounders to the right side of the infield, but just being at home plate is significant progress for the 40-year-old MVP. Bonds, who also played catch in the outfield, was relaxed and upbeat while he changed clothes in the clubhouse before heading to an afternoon rehab session in a nearby pool.

"Just to stand in the cage and track balls was enough for me, just to show that to my teammates," Bonds said.

So why is Bonds' recovery moving so quickly?

"Itch," he said with a laugh. "The itch to be part of the group. The itch to be part of your team."

Bonds also participated in the team's stretching exercises before a light workout day for the Giants. With several new teammates on San Francisco's reloaded roster, Bonds seems determined to participate in as many group activities as possible leading up to Thursday's Cactus League opener.

"I'm one of those guys that just tries to keep himself ready for a game," Bonds said. "It's different, very different, but the good news is that my leg is coming to the ground sound. The rehab is working, but I've still got a lot to do."

Though Bonds had a slight setback in his recovery when he fell shortly after the surgery, he's moving quickly back to full strength. Bonds played catch on Friday, then faced a few pitches from hitting coach Joe Lefebvre in the batting cage on Saturday.

He's expected to be ready to play well before spring training ends -- but for the first time in his tenure with the Giants, Bonds hasn't been able to jump into full workouts on his first day in Arizona. He said the experience has required patience, but only to a point.

"[I was] surprised to see him in uniform," manager Felipe Alou said. "He's itching to be in action. ... He said he wanted to see live arms."

Bonds is third on the majors' career homers list with 703, trailing only Babe Ruth (714) and Hank Aaron (755). He won his seventh MVP award last season with 45 homers, 101 RBI and a major league-record 232 walks.

Bonds' bat speed and knowledge of pitching have few rivals in major league history, but he still needs a few weeks in the spring to adjust his timing. He actually must slow down his memory instincts when he faces live pitching, instead of reacting too aggressively.

Benitez, who signed with the Giants as a free agent during the winter, was surprised when his superstar teammate stepped into the cage. Benitez doesn't break out his nasty slider during the spring until all the rest of his pitches are ready, so he gave Bonds a few fastballs and one changeup that caused the slugger to smile.

"I didn't know he wanted to be in there," Benitez said. "He said, 'Why are you throwing me a changeup?' I said, 'Hey, man, I have to work a lot on this stuff.' "

Bonds might even join regular batting practice Monday, hitting with a group of his teammates.

While other players can relax in the afternoon, Bonds has been straining through an hour of water exercises designed to improve his strength and wind after the surgery. But that's fine with Bonds as long as his knee stays as sound as it appears.

"I keep it at a lower impact so I can push myself a little bit harder ... without having my entire body weight on it," Bonds said. "The good news is, it's coming back. The good news is, it's not progressive soreness. As the day goes on, it kind of subsides away. Hopefully, I don't have that progressive pain."

Camp notes
Left-hander Jason Christiansen's knee feels much better, and the reliever might return to the mound by Tuesday. Christiansen's knee swelled during the weekend, keeping him out of action. ... Alou, who's fighting off a minor illness, felt exhausted for the second straight day. He left the training complex in the early afternoon for a nap.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press