Pitcher says he's '100 percent' healed

Updated: January 16, 2004, 4:30 PM ET
Associated Press

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander Kris Benson threw off a mound Friday for the first time since July, then pronounced himself healed from the shoulder injury that cut short his 2003 season.

"I'm 100 percent, no doubt about it," Benson said.

Benson, the Pirates' opening day starter last season, threw 30 fastballs -- the same workload as the other pitchers attending the team's annual January minicamp.

"My shoulder felt great," Benson said. "I didn't have any type of problems at all. I felt strong enough to keep going. I was throwing nice and easy and the ball was coming out easily. I couldn't have asked for more for my first time off the mound."

Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon also was pleased as Benson began his comeback from his second major injury in four seasons. He missed the 2001 season and part of the 2002 season following reconstructive elbow surgery.

"From a physical standpoint, I was pleased with what I saw," McClendon said. "I'm sure from a mental standpoint, he's glad this day is over."

Benson didn't pitch after July 17 because of pain apparently caused by his shoulder blade being out of alignment. He began a light throwing program in October before taking six weeks off around the holidays.

He will throw again Sunday in the final day of minicamp, then resume workouts next week at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. He is expected to be ready for the start of spring training Feb. 21.

"For not throwing off a mound for six months, I'm pleased with the feel he had," pitching coach Spin Williams said. "He's probably ahead of most people in this camp and ahead of where he was in most years when he was healthy."

Benson's goal is to pitch 200 innings, something the No. 1 pick in the June 1996 draft has done only once in the majors.

"I need to re-establish myself in this league and get back to where I was before my surgery," he said.

Limited by injuries, Benson was 14-15 over the last three seasons. His 5-9 record and 4.97 ERA last year each were career worsts.

"I want to show myself that I can get through another season without an injury," said Benson, who is in the last year of a contract that pays him $6 million this season. "I'm looking forward to this season more than any other, even more than the year I came back from Tommy John surgery. I feel like I've gotten everything taken care of."

Benson, 29, is expected to begin the season in a rotation that also includes right-handers Kip Wells and Josh Fogg and left-hander Oliver Perez.

"It's important to have him (Benson) out there every fifth day and have him doing what he's capable of doing," McClendon said. "It puts another power arm in our rotation and we need that if we're going to have success."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press