A cheerful Barry Bonds looked upbeat and relaxed yesterday as he prepared to come off the disabled list and play for the first time this year.

Bonds will start in left field and bat cleanup when he makes his long-awaited return to the Giants' lineup tonight as they open a three-game series against the NL West-leading Padres at SBC Park.

Bonds took batting practice and shagged fly balls in the outfield yesterday.

"Right now, I'm just trying to keep my mind clear, that's it," Bonds said while quietly gripping his bats in a black recliner in the corner of the clubhouse.

The slugger, coming back from three operations on his right knee since Jan. 31, has been eager for months to resume his quest of Hank Aaron's home run record. He received medical clearance to play Saturday from Lewis Yocum, the Angels' team orthopedist who worked with Bonds for more than two months in Los Angeles until the slugger rejoined his teammates last week at Dodger Stadium.

* HANDLING WITH CARE: Mets C Mike Piazza sat out the series finale against the Cardinals as a precaution after he was beaned the previous night and suffered a concussion.

Piazza had been scheduled for a day off anyway after being activated Saturday from the 15-day disabled list for a broken left hand. Although Piazza repeatedly said he felt fine several hours before the game, the Mets chose to be prudent. "You obviously want to make sure you err on the side of caution when someone gets hit in the head or whatever," Manager Willie Randolph said.

-- From News Services

San Francisco slugger Barry Bonds will resume his chase for the home run crown when the Giants host San Diego.