SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Barry Bonds is progressing in three key areas of his rehabilitation on his surgically repaired right knee, though there is still no timetable for when he will resume his chase of the home run record.

The San Francisco slugger’s knee is getting stronger, his range of motion has nearly reached an equal level to the left side, and the swelling has gone down significantly since his most recent operation May 2.

Bonds will be examined Sunday by Dr. Robert Armstrong, and trainer Stan Conte expects Bonds will be off antibiotics sometime next week. Bonds might be close to traveling on the road with the Giants, too.

“The strength is getting better, the range is getting better, and the swelling is decreasing,” Conte said Wednesday. “We’re making progress. We want to continue on those lines. … I don’t think we can afford to be encouraged about anything. Every time we’re encouraged, something bad happens. We’re not ready to let our guard down.”

Before Conte’s update, manager Felipe Alou acknowledged that without Bonds there is little chance the Giants will win the NL West title so many expected from this veteran club before the year began.

And if slumping San Francisco doesn’t get better in a hurry, it might be too late even if Bonds returns this season.

Especially considering closer Armando Benitez is probably sidelined for the remainder of the season following surgery to repair two torn hamstring tendons, and ace Jason Schmidt is in a perplexing funk.

“If anyone expects this team to win the pennant like it is, that’s not being honest,” Alou said before the Giants hosted the Kansas City Royals. “The club hasn’t been intact. I want to see Barry Bonds here, and the closer and Schmitty throwing the ball better. I think we will be a different team.”

The Giants had lost five straight at home and 10 of 11 overall heading into Wednesday night. They have been inconsistent with the basics and their confidence is taking a beating, too.

“We don’t have a killer instinct,” outfielder Marquis Grissom said. “When we do win, we don’t put a team away like we should. … We’ve gotten away from the fundamentals.”

The Giants are eager to have Bonds back, but have quit worrying about it. Not having their superstar is no excuse.

Bonds underwent three operations on his troublesome knee since Jan. 31. He played light catch last week for the first time since spring training and walked up the ramps of SBC Park when the team was on the road.

“I saw him working and rehabbing,” Alou said. “The only report I have is he looks good to me.”

The absence of Bonds’ powerful left-handed bat has left a huge void in the middle of the Giants’ batting order. San Francisco acquired Moises Alou in the offseason to bat behind Bonds, but now the elder Alou is having a hard time finding someone to bat behind his son.

“We have some problems with offense and defense,” Felipe Alou said. “We have problems with starting pitching and problems with the bullpen. Are there any other areas?”

The coaching staff? Alou defended his staff, saying the coaches have been creative and tried different things in an effort to find more wins.

Bonds said in spring training he could miss half the season or even the entire year, but has been more optimistic.

recently about a return. One popular timetable – though the club won’t make any predictions – has Bonds returning sometime around the All-Star break. He turns 41 on July 24.

Bonds is third on the career home run list with 703, 11 behind Babe Ruth and 52 from tying Hank Aaron’s record. Bonds batted .362 last season with 45 homers and 101 RBIs and walked a major league-record 232 times on the way to his record seventh MVP award.

“Right now, our offense looks like nothing,” Alou said.

Benitez’s recovery is going well, and he played cards in the clubhouse with a smile on his face Wednesday a day after walking on the field with the aid of a cane.

He is doing things 51/2 weeks after his surgery – walking without crutches and throwing from 90 feet – he was expected to do at 101/2 weeks, Conte said.

“He’s way ahead of the curve,” Conte said. “We don’t know when to pull him back.”

Alou wants to see improvement soon whether or not Bonds and Benitez return.

“This is a team,” Alou said. “There should never be finger-pointing. A team is a family. … This is not going to be fixed by one or two guys. It’s going to take a tremendous team effort.”

AP-ES-06-08-05 2215EDT

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