SAN FRANCISCO — Barry Bonds shuffled around the locker room without crutches. He played backgammon with a teammate. He even interacted with reporters briefly this week while receiving a local writer's award. In the world of the San Francisco Giants, this is progress.
The Giants, with a record of 10-11, sorely need Bonds' bat back in the lineup, but they also need his aura on the field.
"I'm still waiting for the leadership," says Omar Vizquel, the 16-year veteran, who is in his first year with San Francisco. "I'm waiting for the guys who have been here the longest to say something about it."
It's too early for concern, says manager Felipe Alou of his gray-flecked club, which started one player under 30 on opening day, the oldest lineup in baseball. "Where I come from we don't panic," says the Dominican-born Alou, who turns 70 in May.
But Alou has had to keep his temper in check as the team, which won 91 games and finished second in the NL West last year, has been buffeted by injuries and struggled with starting pitching and defense — the very things the Giants expected to keep them in the running while Bonds rehabs from March surgery on his right knee.
"It hasn't been pretty here," says Alou. "I try to keep my cool. I've been doing whatever I deem necessary to get things going from here, changing the lineup, not playing some guys. I've got to do something here."
'We need to play better'
The Giants had an 8-13 record after 21 games last year with a healthy Bonds. They entered this season considered a contender to the win the weak NL West and showed some of that form this week.
After a stretch in which they dropped nine of 13 games, the Giants rallied to beat the Padres 6-5 Tuesday night on the strength of J.T. Snow's four hits, then followed with a 10-3 victory Wednesday behind Pedro Feliz's three-run homer.
"It's still early in the year, but we just need to play better," Snow says.
An experienced rotation that includes 2003 Cy Young runner-up Jason Schmidt, left-hander Kirk Rueter, right-hander Brett Tomko and youngsters Noah Lowry and Jerome Williams (who has since been optioned to Class AAA) has come up short. The starters have the third-worst ERA in the NL (5.10), a 5-10 mark and are averaging only 5 2/3; innings per outing.
The defense hasn't been much better. Shortstop Vizquel, a nine-time Gold Glove winner, and catcher Mike Matheny, who owns three Gold Gloves, were signed as free agents to shore up the infield. But the team ranks 14th in fielding percentage (.980) with 16 errors.