FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., Feb. 21 -- The first step in starter Kris Benson's rehabilitation program was to repair a potentially fraying relationship with the Baltimore Orioles. Benson, who has a partially torn rotator cuff, walked into the Orioles' clubhouse at about noon on Wednesday and immediately was ushered into Manager Sam Perlozzo's office, where he met with Perlozzo and team executives Jim Duquette and Mike Flanagan for about 15 minutes.
"The main thing is we wanted to sit down with him and tell him we're happy he's here," Duquette said. "Basically, we welcomed him. He even said he wishes he was here earlier. There's no hard feelings or anything of that nature and we're hopeful as he is to avoid surgery. We know he's going to get after the rehab 100 percent just like he does everything else."
Benson doesn't seem to need to repair his relationships with his teammates. Fellow pitcher Erik Bedard waited almost 15 minutes for Benson to finish being interviewed by reporters to say hello. The two embraced. Several other Orioles approached Benson in the clubhouse, including pitcher Steve Trachsel, who was signed last week to take Benson's spot in the rotation.
"It's sore in certain spots, certain angles, certain positions I put my arm in," Benson said of his ailing shoulder. "It's not like I walk around and I'm hurting all around. It's just a matter of baseball activities are a little bit of a problem."
Benson admitted that he has felt pain in his right shoulder for almost four years, yet has continued to pitch. He characterized the pain he feels as similar to the pain he's felt the past four years, but for the first time, he began to feel soreness during his offseason throwing program. For that reason, Benson rested for most of the winter and did not begin to throw until late January. The Orioles were distressed because he did nothing to strengthen the shoulder.
"At the end of the season we gave him a physical therapist to go to and continue the strengthening and stretching and range of motion exercises that we do during the course of the season," Duquette said. "He chose not to do them. He chose to do nothing. He felt like it wasn't necessary. I think he felt he needed to rest the shoulder rather than continue to do the exercises. I think we were a little surprised. Some of the measurement that we had from the end of the season from the doctor had decreased. If he had been able to get to the physical therapist, they would have stayed consistent."
Said Benson: "It wasn't that I wasn't doing the program that I was supposed to be doing, more than it was probably something I could have been doing if I knew of it being a problem. It wasn't something that I went into this offseason doing anything out of the norm. Everything was fine, an ordinary offseason. Everything was going towards getting ready for spring training in a timely fashion."
Benson will begin his rehabilitation program Thursday. In four weeks, he and team doctors will decide on the next course of action. Benson could continue to feel pain and opt for surgery. Or he could decide he can pitch despite the pain and begin a throwing program.
Also at issue is Benson's $7.5 million option for next season, which the Orioles can buy out for $500,000.
"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. If I can pitch I will go 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."
Duquette said the team had decided to wait on a decision on Benson's option until after the season even before the rotator cuff tear was discovered. That timetable certainly holds true now.
The decision "would be determined how he comes through in his surgery, his rehab, what position he's in at the end of the season," Duquette said.