|Benson has another chance to live up to past hype|
|Written by Admin|
|Saturday, 16 February 2008 13:35|
Benson joined the Philadelphia Phillies on Saturday, put on his fourth different uniform in five years and vowed to make a successful comeback.
The 33-year-old right-hander is recovering from rotator cuff surgery on his throwing shoulder, the latest injury in a career derailed by setbacks. He probably won't be ready by opening day and there's no guarantee he'll even have a spot in Philadelphia's rotation.
``I'm hoping it works out here,'' Benson said. ``You have a great defense and a great offense. For me, it's perfect. I'm keeping my fingers crossed because I wanted to be here.''
First, Benson has to show he's healthy. That's been a problem since the Pittsburgh Pirates selected him with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1996 amateur draft.
er one and spent time on the disabled list in six of his nine years in the big leagues. He has a losing career record, going 68-73 with a 4.34 ERA in 195 starts for the Pirates, New York Mets and Baltimore Orioles.
Those aren't the kind of numbers expected from a former Olympian who was one of the greatest college pitchers ever at Clemson.
Benson seemed headed on the right track early. He won 11 games as a rookie in 1999 and followed up with 10 wins and a 3.85 ERA. The Pirates rewarded him with a $13.8 million, four-year contract.
Then came problems.
Just days after signing his new deal, Benson hurt his elbow during a spring training start in March 2001. He tried resting and strengthening the elbow for two months with no progress before having reconstructive surgery.
Benson pitched well when he returned in 2002 and finished the season by winning his last five decisions in dominating fashion. But his shoulder began hurting in 2003 and he sat out the second half.
Benson pitched through the pain and made 89 starts from 2004-06, going 33-32 before blowing out his shoulder. At least he knew what to expect from a long rehab.
The defending NL East champion Phillies aren't counting on Benson to anchor their rotation, so he's getting a chance to slowly work his way back to his old form.
coach Rich Dubee said after Benson threw 60 pitches from a mound. ``What I saw is what I expected. He's in great shape. When he was completely healthy, he was very good. He knows how to pitch.''
It's very unlikely Benson will break camp with the Phillies, so he realizes that he could end up starting the season in the minors. If so, he said, he's willing to set aside his ego and do whatever it takes to help the team.
``Do I have a problem going down to the minors and making a few starts? Of course not, because my goal is to get back to the big leagues,'' he said.
Benson became a free agent last November when the Orioles declined a $7.5 million option. He worked out for several teams in Arizona in December and was disappointed when scouts came away saying they weren't impressed.
``I wasn't there to impress anybody,'' Benson said. ``I was only nine months out (of surgery). The fact that some people had (radar) guns back there was unfair. It started trickling out that I threw 80 mph. But 80 at nine months is pretty damn good. So, I got a bad rap.''
The Phillies saw enough to give Benson a one-year contract on Wednesday. If Adam Eaton, who is penciled in as the No. 5 starter, falters or another starter gets hurt, Benson could provide valuable insurance.
s a lift down the stretch. Of course, he plans to make an impact sooner.
``I'm not looking to be just coming back at the All-Star break, I'm looking to be 100 percent before that,'' Benson said.
Fans in Philly might be more excited about the arrival of Benson's wife, Anna, a model who has her own Web site and has publicly discussed intimate details of the couple's sex life.
She once showed up to the Mets annual holiday party in a low-cut Santa costume, a move that upset some in the organization. Benson was traded to Baltimore about a month later, though Mets general manager Omar Minaya denied that Anna's behavior was a factor.
``A lot of teammates and the wives that meet her say, 'You're not anything like people write about you,''' Benson said. ``It's entertaining. Baseball is boring sometimes. It spruces it up a little. It's all good. It keeps it interesting, keeps me on my toes.''