Closing up shop: Giants' Benitez done for season

SAN FRANCISCO -- San Francisco closer Armando Benitez is
done for the season with inflammation in his right knee.

The Giants planned to place the right-hander on the 60-day
disabled list Thursday, after the club said Tuesday it hoped he
could come back before the end of the year. Benitez returned to
Miami on Wednesday to begin physical therapy.

To fill the roster spot, San Francisco will purchase the
contract of right-hander Billy Sadler from Triple-A Fresno -- though
he has been home in Florida since the Grizzlies' season ended. The
Giants expect the pitcher to be in town for Thursday's afternoon
game, the series finale against the Colorado Rockies.

Benitez had been unable to pitch for eight straight games
because of sore knees. By making the move now, the Giants hope he
will be ready by spring training.

"We were kind of on the fence which way to go," trainer Stan
Conte said. "He won't be back this year. We're optimistic for him
regaining strength and getting the knee calmed down."

Benitez was examined on Monday's off day by 49ers doctor Michael
Dillingham, who has experience with arthritis cases. Dillingham
recommended rehabilitation rather than an operation to clean up the
joint. The 33-year-old Benitez, in his second season with the
Giants and 13th in the big leagues, had been scheduled to begin a
strength and physical therapy program soon.

Benitez, a two-time All-Star who ranks seventh among active
closers with 280 career saves, went 4-2 with a 3.52 ERA and 17
saves in 25 opportunities this season. He is signed through the
2007 season after agreeing to a $21.5 million, three-year contract,
in November 2004.

The Giants acquired him to stabilize the club's closer role that
had been in flux since Robb Nen got injured during the team's 2002
World Series season.

Now, the Giants might opt to try to trade him as they overhaul
their roster this winter.

"We've seen glimpses but all the physical things have taken a
toll," general manager Brian Sabean said of Benitez's potential.
"He's under contract. I'll leave it at that."

Benitez's tenure in San Francisco has been plagued by injuries.
Last season, Benitez underwent surgery to reattach two torn
hamstring tendons to his pelvis. But Benitez recovered more quickly
than expected and pitched again late in the year. He missed time
earlier this season with a left knee injury.

Conte said Benitez has dealt with knee problems since 1999 and
the latest setback probably has nothing to do with the hamstring
injury last year. The Giants would like to see him drop 10-15
pounds from his 6-foot-4, 260-pound frame.

"Armando is a big man," Conte said. "I don't think the cause
of his problems is his weight. This isn't a matter of lack of work.
This guy works."

Manager Felipe Alou stood by the embattled Benitez during his
recent struggles, which included three straight blown saves during
one stretch in July. Benitez was booed almost every time he took
the mound in the Giants' waterfront ballpark, though he said the
fans had a right to their opinion even though he often was pitching
in close games and had some hard luck.

"The loss is big," Alou said.

Veteran left-hander Mike Stanton has been pitching the ninth
inning in Benitez's place, converting saves in five of his last
eight outings.

Sadler was called up over 2006 first-round draft pick Tim
Lincecum, a right-hander out of the University of Washington who
has been pitching for Class-A San Jose. Sadler went a combined 5-3
with 21 saves and a 2.43 ERA in 51 games with Double-A Connecticut
and Fresno.

Reliever Vinnie Chulk, who came out of Tuesday's game with a
groin injury, did some throwing off the mound and is expected to be
available to pitch Thursday. Right-hander Brian Wilson, unavailable
since Sept. 4 because of soreness in his right side, threw off flat
ground with no pain and was scheduled to pitch a bullpen session