Benson ready to take next step

Benson ready to take next step

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The long road back will unofficially start Saturday for Kris Benson. The 33-year-old pitcher is scheduled to start in a Phillies Minor League game in his first live action in more than a year.

"It's going to be fun," said Benson, who last pitched in the Majors on Sept. 27, 2006, as a member of the Orioles. "It'll be one step closer to putting me in good position for March."

Benson will oppose Phillies lefty Jamie Moyer in a game that will feature a mixture of Minor Leaguers. Benson is scheduled to toss 45 pitches over three innings, broken down into 15 pitches per inning. It will be a chance for him and the Phillies' coaching staff to gauge his progress.

"It's something where he's at a stage he can see hitters in a game situation," pitching coach Rich Dubee said. "He actually wants to do it, which is a good sign. We want him to build up arm strength, build velocity and throw harder than the last time."

Benson has steadily been building up arm strength since his first bullpen session at the beginning of camp.

On Monday, Benson threw batting practice and tossed 40 pitches, split into a pair of 20-pitch sessions. The 6-foot-4 right-hander reeled off another 40 pitches on Wednesday in a bullpen session and is excited about facing batters again.

"I'm looking forward to it," said Benson, who underwent rotator cuff surgery on March 20, 2007. "Everything's going upward as far as my progression goes. It'll be nice to face batters who don't know what's coming and get some reaction. [Wednesday] was the first day I threw some curveballs and it'll be good to throw some on Saturday. I've definitely needed to work on more curveballs, so I'm just looking for results now."

Since being selected as the No. 1 overall pick by the Pirates in the 1996 First-Year Player Draft, the former Clemson University star has been trying to live up to the high expectations. Health problems, though, have prevented Benson from reaching and maintaining his desired level of consistency.

Having been through Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery that cost him the 2001 season, along with his most recent setbacks, he's developed an understanding of his body to know the timetable for his recovery.

"I feel like I'm just a week behind everyone else," said Benson, who will take an extra day of rest before his Saturday start. "In my eyes, though, I don't feel like I'm that far behind. I figure with throwing batting practice and tossing a bullpen session and the start on Saturday, that it puts me in good position for pitching in March."

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Benson emphasized that pitching in the Major Leagues before May is a strong possibility.

"Everything's going upward," Benson said. "I want to get out there and pitch, and by pitching against batters, I'll be able to see where I am."

Two things that Benson said he'd like to gauge are the strength in his shoulder and his arm slot during his windup and delivery.

"As far as the extra crank on my shoulder, everything has been a little more in each session," Benson said. "If anything [on Saturday], I'd like to work on getting full range. It's still a little bit sore, and [the limited arm motion] affects breaking pitches."

Benson has received feedback from other pitchers throughout camp, namely reliever J.C. Romero.

"He made a comment to me about when he was with the Angels, he noticed I was longer on the backside, and I took that as a good thing as far as what I need to get back to," Benson said. "It's nice that other guys have noticed things and that they've helped me out."

For Benson, who is attempting to beat out Adam Eaton for the No. 5 starter spot, he'll take every bit of help he can get.

"It's been over a year and a half since I pitched, so just getting out there and having the chance to pitch in the big leagues again is nice," Benson said. "My goal is to make it back to the big leagues, though. I'll do whatever it takes to get there."

Chris Girandola is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.