<
>

He's swinging away less than a month after surgery

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.

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.