INQUIRER STAFF WRITER CLEARWATER, Fla. - The Phillies finally have Kris Benson in the fold.
But is he ready to compete for a job in the rotation?
Benson, who missed last season after having rotator cuff surgery March 20 on his right shoulder, agreed with the Phillies today to a minor-league contract, which will be completed if he passes a physical tomorrow in Philadelphia.
The Phillies are hopeful Benson can compete for a job by the end of spring training, but Phillies scout Chuck LaMar, who watched Benson throw twice recently in private workouts in Atlanta, said Benson is throwing at only 60 to 70 percent of his normal velocity.
That means he might not be ready by Opening Day.
"He's healthy," LaMar said. "No pain in his shoulder. He threw free and easy. If he continues to make the progress that he's made he'll pitch in the major leagues again. I was very encouraged by the workouts . . . He's coming into camp thinking he'd be ready Opening Day. That's awfully aggressive for us being only 10 1/2 months post-op. I think Kris still has a ways to go. But again, very free and easy."
Benson, 33, is 68-73 with a 4.34 ERA in 195 starts in his seven-year career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, New York Mets and Baltimore Orioles.
The Phillies hope Benson provides more depth to a pitching staff that proved last year it needs it. The Phillies entered last spring with six established big-league starters: Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, Freddy Garcia, Jamie Moyer, Jon Lieber and Adam Eaton. Only Moyer went the entire season without a trip to the disabled list.
"Hopefully sometime from Opening Day to the first of June, somewhere in that timetable, he should be ready to go," LaMar said. "The more pitching depth you have, especially in our situation, the better off you are. Anytime you can add someone with his experience, if he does come back from injury, it just adds competition. It adds depth."
Phillies assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Benson has an out clause in his contract. Often a player with big-league experience who signs a minor-league deal has a clause that states he must be on the 25-man roster by a certain date or be released. Amaro said there is a chance Benson could pitch for triple-A Lehigh Valley but that it would be up to Benson.
That sounds as if Benson could ask for his release before the season starts.
"It's a low risk, high reward type of a situation," Amaro said. "Anytime you can get a pitcher who's had multiple double-digit win seasons and bring him in on a minor-league deal, it's a plus."
If Benson passes his physical tomorrow, he could be in camp Friday or Saturday.
LaMar is confident Benson can return to his prior form. Benson threw for a handful of teams in December, and Benson acknowledged to LaMar recently that he wasn't ready to throw at that time.
LaMar said he has made considerable progress since.
That is why Amaro said he is optimistic.
"It depends on how his body and his arm reacts," Amaro said.