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 SARASOTA, Fla. (AP) -John Van Benschoten doesn't have a job as a Pittsburgh Pirates starter. He doesn't have one as a reliever, either.
The former first-round draft pick also doesn't know where he will be next month: in Pittsburgh, in Indianapolis, in limbo.
The Pirates' minor league pitcher of the year last season, but one who pitched so badly in the majors he was a candidate to be released, is nearing a crossroads in his career.
Does he stay with the Pirates, go back to the minors again or move on to another organization? Does he, and this would be the biggest change of all, return to being the position player he was as a power-hitting first baseman at Kent State?
``Of course,'' Van Benschoten said Friday when asked if he worries about his status now that the Pirates have a new manager and general manager. ``New, old, it doesn't matter. When you're not slated to be on the team before spring training, there's always urgency.''
The right-hander probably didn't help his case Friday against the Cincinnati Reds with the kind of outing that was reminiscent of so many a year ago, when he was 0-7 with a 10.15 ERA in 11 Pirates games.
He frequently got behind in the count, walking Ken Griffey Jr. in the first before allowing a wind-aided three-run homer by Brandon Phillips. He gave up four runs and five hits in three innings, elevating his spring ERA to 9.00 in two games, although the Pirates rallied to win 13-8.
There's a chance the Pirates might next try the No. 8 overall pick in the 2001 draft as a reliever, a move he would welcome but might not necessarily enhance his chances of making the team.
The Pirates are making that same experiment with their 2000 first-rounder, Sean Burnett, who, like Van Benschoten, has a lengthy history of arm problems since being drafted.
``Yeah, of course, if they said, `We think we'll try you out of the bullpen, I'd be like, `Where can I sign up?' `` said Van Benschoten, who turns 28 next month. ``That's fine, whatever you guys want. I can't be picky.''
What encourages Van Benschoten is he is healthy for the first time since 2003 after having two operations to his left shoulder and reconstructive surgery to his throwing shoulder, forcing him to sit out the 2005 season.
For now, he is struggling with delivery problems, unable to consistently throw the same pitch at the same arm angle and at the identical point in his release.
``But it just feels good to be better, I mean I'm bouncing back (after every outing),'' he said. ``I'll go throw 1,000 feet if they want me to'' during the pitchers' off-day throwing program.
Still, as the surgeries mount and the lack of success on the mound continues, Van Benschoten can't dodge this question: Where would he be if had stayed at first base?
Nearly every team who scouted him, except the Pirates, planned to keep him at first. Van Benschoten led NCAA Division I players with 31 homers while batting .440 with 84 RBIs in 61 regular season games at Kent State in 2001.
Former Cardinals pitcher Rick Ankiel has successfully converted into an outfielder but, Van Benschoten said, ``He's obviously an extraordinary case.''
``There are certain moments when I think about it, probably when I'm watching on television, but not really when I'm in the game,'' Van Benschoten said. ``You kind of still have that (position player's) mentality, and you think `What goes on here?' But that's just because I've still got an instinctual kind of mind.''
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