Notes: Benson taking baby steps

Notes: Benson taking baby steps

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- On a back field at the sprawling Carpenter Complex, Kris Benson took his first baby steps toward a big league return.

The 33-year-old, who hasn't thrown a pitch in the Majors since Sept. 27, 2006, made 60 tosses in front of Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee and many other members of the organization.

Dubee said Benson looked in good shape and went through his workout with no problems. The Phillies will increase his long-toss program to build arm strength.

"It's not even 11 months [after March 20, 2006, right rotator cuff surgery], so I can't complain where I'm at," Benson said. "It's still weak, but it's gonna be better in a couple of weeks, so getting down in the sun, getting out an doing it every day is gonna help."

Whether it helps enough for Benson to reach his ambitious goal of being ready for Opening Day remains a question. Described at "60 to 70 percent" of his velocity when he agreed to a Minor League deal on Feb. 13, Benson understands the need for patience. Having been through Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery that cost him the 2001 season, and other long-term injuries, he's used to letting his body dictate the recovery.

"Realistically, do I think I'll make [Opening Day]," Benson said. "I don't know. Throughout this process, I've learned the shoulder has a mind of its own and it doesn't matter if you deviate from the program, it's still going to do what it wants to do. Today, it can feel great and the next day, you can do the same thing and it doesn't feel good. So I'm just going to take it one day at a time."

That's priority one for Benson, before he can worry about attempting to beat out Adam Eaton for the fifth-starter job, or contributing on any level. The right-hander said he's open to pitching in the Minors if he feels it might lead to something bigger. His contract contains an out clause that allows him to become a free agent if he's not on the 25-man roster by a certain date. That date is believed to be near the end of Spring Training.

"It depends on where they see me fitting in with the ballclub at that time," Benson said. "Do I have a problem going to the Minor Leagues and making some starts? Of course not, because my goal is to make it back to the big leagues. To make it with any team, I'm gonna have to do that. If I'm not ready by Opening Day, I'll do whatever it takes."

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Ultimately, pitching for the Phillies is Benson's goal, along with helping them get past one of his former teams, the Mets. He likes the Phillies, as well as Philadelphia's proximity to New York, specifying that he wanted to remain on the East Coast.

Hopefully, that opportunity will come.

"I'm hoping it works out here because this is a perfect opportunity for me," Benson said. "You got a great defense, a great offense, a great bullpen, a great manager, a great pitching coach. I'm keeping my fingers crossed because I want to be here."

Team to beat, Round Two: The first shot came from Port St. Lucie, Fla., from Carlos Beltran.

Asked about the team's acquisition of Johan Santana, Beltran said, "Without Santana, we felt as a team we had a chance to win in our division. With him, now I have no doubt we're going to win in the division. I have no doubt we have what it takes."

He closed with, "So this year, to Jimmy Rollins, we are the team to beat."

Rollins, who hasn't arrived in Clearwater, is expected to reply.

In the meantime, manager Charlie Manuel said, "Let Louisville do the talking."

On Anna: Benson knows wife Anna, a former exotic dancer, draws plenty of attention for her revealing magazine spreads and risque comments.

This is fine with him.

"It goes with the territory," he said of his wife, who hasn't yet arrived in Clearwater. "It doesn't bother me one bit. Some of the stuff that's written, like I read the other day that she's a Penthouse model, and I thought, 'Come on, man, she's not a Penthouse model. Look up her name and show me some pictures.' You run into that kind of stuff. It's not a big deal. We have fun with it."

If nothing else, it breaks up the monotony.

"Baseball is boring sometimes, so you have to spruce it up a little bit," Benson said. "It's entertaining. It keeps me on my toes and [the media] on their toes. As long as you guys don't talk too much smack."

Duly noted.

Philling in: Anderson Garcia, designated for assignment on Feb. 7, was claimed by the Seattle Mariners. ... The Phillies signed 11 players for the 2008 season: Joe Bisenius, Fabio Castro, Clay Condrey, John Ennis, J.A. Happ, Lincoln Holdzkom, Shane Youman, Mike Zagurski, Chris Coste, Jason Jaramillo and Carlos Ruiz. ... Shane Victorino and So Taguchi arrived at camp on Saturday, leaving Rollins, Jayson Werth, Wes Helms and Eric Bruntlett as the only unaccounted players.

Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.