Benitez to have tender elbow examined today Manager Johnson says he's 'a little worried'



MINNEAPOLIS -- Orioles reliever Armando Benitez will have his sore right elbow examined by a team doctor today, manager Davey Johnson said yesterday.

"I'm a little worried about Armando," Johnson said.

The area on the inside of Benitez's elbow, at the top of the forearm, began bothering him in the final days of spring training. Johnson avoided using Benitez in the first four games of the season, until bringing him in Saturday night to pitch an inning.

Benitez was awesome, striking out all three hitters he faced with a hard fastball and a darting slider. But yesterday, Benitez's elbow still felt tender, and as he has for the past week, the right-hander had the joint packed in ice. Johnson said Benitez was not available to pitch in yesterday's game.

The Orioles aren't counting on Benitez to be a setup man or part-time closer, as they did in 1995. But he is still critical for the bullpen, because of the depth he provides and because he has the ability to get strikeouts.

"I want to know what's going on," Benitez said.

Puckett has fingers crossed

Minnesota right fielder Kirby Puckett, whose career may be in jeopardy because of eye trouble, greeted a couple of reporters yesterday in this manner: "What do you guys want with a one-eyed Jack? I still can't see. What do you want to know?"

Puckett said his injured eye is improving gradually. "A little bit of something is better than nothing," he said. "As far as I know, I could wake up tomorrow and my sight could be back. That's how it happened. In order for [the problem] to go away, that's how it might happen again. I'm just praying like everyone else. Hopefully, it comes back sooner than later."

He is hopeful, but "not scared. It could be worse, It could be a terminal illness. I've always kept things in perspective. When you see people die like John McSherry, any people -- my mother and father are dead -- that shows you this is just a game."

He will go to Boston with the team this week, and then on to Baltimore, where he will visit eye doctors again. However, Puckett doesn't know if the injury will end his career.

"I can't say I'm ruling it out," said Puckett, 35, who caught some fly balls and ducked some others during batting practice yesterday. "They gave me a 50-50 chance to see [enough to play]."

Support for Haynes

Benitez's elbow trouble could mean extra work out of the bullpen for rookie Jimmy Haynes, who likely will be used in relief until April 20, the next time the Orioles need a fifth starter.

Johnson reiterated yesterday that Haynes, who was rocked for seven runs in four-plus innings in Saturday night's 8-3 loss to the Twins, won't be sent to the minors. "He's the kind of guy who needs to be right here," Johnson said. "The progress he's made is fine. . . . I don't want to start yo-yoing [to and from the minors] a young guy. He might misinterpret what we're [doing] with him."

Johnson said he's kept young pitchers throwing "10 times worse than [Haynes]. You talk about stuff happening on the mound. I mean, Ron Darling -- more rockets, fewer strikes. Other guys, who turned out to be very good pitchers.

"I feel really comfortable having a guy like Jimmy Haynes as my weakest starter. If that's my worst problem. . . ."

Bonilla's bat is happy

At the end of spring training, Bobby Bonilla told Johnson he didn't want to be the designated hitter, and Johnson told Bonilla he was going to be used that way for a while. The disagreement, however, has not severed communication between the two.

"I was talking to Bobby the other day," Johnson said, acknowledging the whole issue made him "antsy."

"I said to him, 'If I can handle it, you can handle it.' . . . Misery loves company."

Bonilla swung the bat well the first week, driving in four runs, including a 416-foot leadoff homer yesterday that extended the Orioles' lead in the eighth inning.

Around the horn

Bill Ripken is the only position player who hasn't appeared in game. . . . B. J. Surhoff's five-game hitting streak ended yesterday, when he went 0-for-3. . . . Before the Twins left the Metrodome after yesterday's game, they already knew that today's game against Boston had been postponed.

Back to the bench

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