Benson injury is call to arms

O's turn to veteran Trachsel to help mentor young staff

Baseball

February 15, 2007|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN REPORTER

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Jaret Wright was having lunch in California with a friend when the news that fellow Orioles starter Kris Benson likely was out for the season flashed across the television screen. Erik Bedard was informed Monday by teammate Adam Loewen, and Chad Bradford was told by his agent. All three Orioles responded with great surprise.

As pitchers and catchers reported yesterday for spring training, the prevailing topic was the health of Benson, who has a partially torn rotator cuff in his pitching shoulder that will likely require season-ending surgery. Benson, a right-hander who was expected to be the club's No. 2 or No. 3 starter, is scheduled to see renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews on Monday afternoon in Birmingham, Ala., agent Gregg Clifton said yesterday.

"It's disappointing that he's hurt," said Bedard, who will likely be the Orioles' No. 1 starter. "But when you're hurt, you've got to get it fixed and get back as soon as possible. He was a great teammate and a good friend, so it's kind of sad to not see him here."

Bedard said he spoke to Benson on Tuesday and urged the 32-year-old pitcher to "get better quick [and] get here as fast as you can."

Loewen, the Orioles' 22-year-old starter, had dinner with Benson in late January when Benson was in Baltimore to see team doctors and get a magnetic resonance imaging test done.

"He said it was bothering him for a while this offseason, so he was just getting it checked out," said Loewen, who described his teammate as "pretty disappointed, pretty let down."

"It's one of those things where if he wants to have a long career, he has to go ahead and have this taken care of," Loewen said. "It's a big loss for our staff. He was the guy that all the young guys went to for his advice. He's kind of a big brother to us, or to me anyway. It's going to be a huge loss."

Veteran right-hander Steve Trachsel, 36, will be given the first chance to take Benson's spot in the rotation. Trachsel, who went 15-8 with a 4.97 ERA for the New York Mets last year, passed his physical and finalized a one-year contract yesterday worth a guaranteed $3.1 million. The contract includes a $4.75 million club option for 2008. He's not expected to report to Fort Lauderdale until tomorrow.

To make room for Trachsel on the 40-man roster, the Orioles likely will designate a player for assignment today. They considered putting Benson on the 60-day disabled list to open a spot but decided they will hold off until the pitcher gets a third opinion Monday.

"[Trachsel] brings a veteran presence and veteran leadership," said club vice president Jim Duquette, who knows Trachsel well from their days together in New York. "That's exactly what we're lacking with the Benson injury."

Over his past 10 full seasons, Trachsel has averaged 32 starts, 194 innings, 12 wins and a 4.29 ERA.

"He comes in and you know what he is going to give you," said Bradford, a teammate of Trachsel's last season in New York. "He is a 15-game winner. You can't really argue with that."

Executive vice president Mike Flanagan said the club was surprised and lucky Trachsel was still available so late in the free-agent process. Flanagan acknowledged that Trachsel's rocky postseason last year - he gave up seven earned runs, 11 hits and six walks in two outings spanning 4 1/3 innings - probably made other teams shy away from the pitcher.

Asked whether Trachsel has a spot in the rotation or if he has to compete with prospect Hayden Penn, among others, Flanagan said: "Nothing is ever set in stone. Injuries happen all the time."

Several Orioles said yesterday that it will take a group effort to offset Benson's loss. Some of the leadership responsibilities might fall on Wright, 31, whom the Orioles acquired in an offseason trade with the New York Yankees.

"Honestly, I just try to do what I do ... and just try to be myself," Wright said. "I'm not looking to take on less responsibility or more responsibility. I'm just going to try to be who I am. If guys want to talk or something like that, that's fine with me. I enjoy it."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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