After arthroscopic knee surgery, Vizquel says he's ready to play

SAN FRANCISCO -- San Francisco shortstop Omar Vizquel is pain-free and ready to finally get back to playing the sparkling defense that has made him an 11-time Gold Glove winner.

Vizquel, 41, is set to make his season debut for the Giants on Saturday against the Philadelphia Phillies, kicking off his 20th major league season. He has been sidelined all season after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on Feb. 27.

He played in five rehab games without problems, but said he will continue to wear a special adjustable brace on his knee for about a month as a precaution.

"I feel good," Vizquel said after going through pregame warmups with his teammates Friday night. "I'm trying to play long stretches without any pain. I think that was the main concern. I played five games with no pain. I hope I can continue with the same improvement."

Vizquel, who in November agreed to a $5.3 million, one-year contract to stay with San Francisco for a fourth season, had hoped to be playing by mid-April at the latest, but knows now that rushing back would have been a mistake.

"No chance. That would have been a disaster," he said. "It was the best decision. I will be the same [out there on defense] without changing anything. ... I still have the fear that if I make a wrong move, it's going to bite me again. But it feels a lot better and I can play like that."

He hopes to get going offensively in a hurry, too. Vizquel batted just .246 with four home runs and 51 RBIs in 2007 but still played great defense.

Vizquel will be cautious at times when need be -- and manager Bruce Bochy plans to give Vizquel regular days off. Vizquel said he will have to ice his knee after each game and that it will probably be a little bit sore at first as he gets back to game speed.

"He's going to need some help," Bochy said. "I don't think at this stage he can go out and play six or seven nine-inning games."

Rookie Brian Bocock, who hadn't played above the Class-A level before filling in for Vizquel, was optioned to Triple-A Fresno after Friday's 7-4 loss to make room for Vizquel, who will be activated from the disabled list Saturday morning.

"He's ready to go," Bochy said of Vizquel. "I think his veteran presence and his play is definitely going to be a shot in the arm for the club. To have Omar around the clubhouse, his enthusiasm, his personality, is going to be big for the club. Hopefully it does get us going."

The Giants also might need a replacement for Ray Durham if the second baseman goes on the disabled list. Durham underwent an MRI exam on Friday that revealed a slight right hamstring pull.