Benson arrives at O's camp to begin rehabilitation

Plan now is to assess pitcher's torn rotator cuff, then see which direction player and team will take from there

February 22, 2007|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN REPORTER

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. -- One of the more intriguing spring training stories for the Orioles flipped to a new chapter at 12:15 p.m. yesterday when Kris Benson walked into the clubhouse, where a large pack of reporters waited for him, and headed for manager Sam Perlozzo's office.

Benson is in camp to begin his rehabilitation program. And that's about all the Orioles, and the pitcher, can be sure about these days.

Intent on delaying or avoiding surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff, Benson said his shoulder is sore "in certain spots, certain angles, certain positions I put my arm in."

"It's not like I walk around and I'm hurting all around," the right-hander said. "It's just a matter of baseball activities are a little bit of a problem. Right now, I'm just happy to be down here, glad to be with Richie [Bancells] and his training staff. I'll let them take a look at it over the next few weeks and see what they can do and get this problem solved."

Benson said the discomfort surfaced last month when he began a long-tossing program. The timing alarmed Benson, who frequently receives treatment on his shoulder during each season, but never has dealt with pain over the winter.

"At the time it really wasn't that much," Benson said. "I took a week off after I felt a little something. I normally take a week off before I get down to spring training anyway. I took a week off and I came back after the week was over and it still wasn't feeling that great.

"It's something I've pitched with on and off consistently for the past four seasons. For it to happen right off the bat when I started to kind of stress it a little bit was something I just wanted to get checked out.

"It's something I very well could have been throwing with all these years. It was just something that basically gave me a little more of a problem than I'm used to and it threw up some red flags for me."

Benson, who was 11-12 with a 4.82 ERA in 30 starts last season, figures to give the rehab program a month before the medical staff re-evaluates his shoulder. Surgery remains a strong possibility.

Perlozzo classified Benson's availability by Opening Day as "unrealistic."

"But I'm not exactly up on what's going on with him," Perlozzo added. "We'll just take it a little bit at a time and we'll see what happens.

"He's a pretty smart guy. He knows what he is doing. I got the feeling when I got with him that he's anxious to get going."

The Orioles hold a $7.5 million option on Benson's contract for next season.

"As far as my contract status, I'm sure they would like to get the most out of me and they would like me to rehab for a couple months and then pitch four months of the season or whatever to get their bang out of their buck," Benson said. "I want them to pick up the option. At the same time, I don't want to rock the boat by any means. I want to show them I can get out there and pitch. I'll rehab it until I'm blue in the face, which I've been doing.

"It's not that I'm content with the fact that I'm getting paid this season. I want to play for another six or seven years, I want to make a lot more money in this game, I want to accomplish a lot more things in this game."

Benson received three opinions on his shoulder, the first coming from Orioles orthopedic specialist Dr. Andrew Cosgarea, who recommended a rehab program. New York Mets medical director Dr. David Altchek advised Benson to have surgery immediately. On Monday, Dr. James Andrews examined Benson in Birmingham, Ala., and suggested that he try the rehab program before consenting to a medical procedure that likely would cause him to miss the entire season.

"This is a reoccurring problem that I've had to rehab every single day," Benson said. "If you guys ever see me in the training room, that's all I do, that specific workout just for what is causing this problem right now. We had a little `yes' and `no' kind of thing going on. We got a third opinion and he just basically said, `Give it three or four weeks.' ...

"The team's stance is I don't need surgery, which is true at this time. If the rehab doesn't work, then we have to pounce on it and make sure that I don't fall into next season with the rehab or coming back in May or June.

"Right now, Andrews gave me a leeway of, if I did have the surgery, then [the return date] is December now. The month doesn't really affect the following season."

Orioles vice president Jim Duquette said the club was "surprised" that Benson didn't follow its prescribed range-of-motion exercises during the offseason, but he wouldn't classify the reaction as displeasure.

"He chose not to do that. He felt rest was a better way to go," Duquette said. "When he came in to see the doctor, the measurements we saw at the end of the season and now, it showed that he had gone backward in that area.

"There really hasn't been any confrontation or argument between Kris and the front office. He's a good guy. We never really thought he wanted to have surgery anyway."

Said Benson: "I kept good communication with Jim. He knows my program. It's something that obviously I've got to keep a little bit more close tabs on - if this works out where I don't need surgery - during the offseason. It wasn't that I wasn't doing the program that I was supposed to be doing. It was more that it was probably something I could have been doing if I knew of it being a problem. Everything was fine, an ordinary offseason. Everything was going towards getting ready for spring training in a timely fashion."

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